Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., was nominated to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., was nominated to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Senate War Over Presidential Appointees Heats Up as Two Nominees Are Blocked

Move reignites a simmering fight over whether to limit the minority party's ability to hold up nominations.

Senate Republicans blocked two White House nominations on Thursday, including Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Watt's nomination, which went down on a 56-42 cloture vote, was highly politicized because the role includes overseeing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Conservatives, including the Club for Growth, opposed the nomination because they said it would be inappropriate for a politician to fill such a role.

"I have said from day one that a technocrat, not a politician, should lead the FHFA, the regulator charged with overseeing the $5 trillion portfolios of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac," said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.

Republicans also blocked the nomination of Patricia Ann Millett to be a judge on the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia by a cloture vote of 55-38. Sixty votes were needed to advance the nominations.

Republicans cited Democratic attacks against a GOP judicial nominee, Peter Keisler, who was filibustered because Democrats argued there was a light workload for the court and the position did not need to be filled. So, the reason Democrats want to approve Millett now is politics, Republicans argued.

"Our Democratic colleagues and the administration's supporters have been fairly candid about it," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "They have admitted they want to control the court so it will advance the president's agenda."

The blocked nominations reignite a simmering fight in the Senate over whether to change the confirmation process to limit the minority party's ability to block nominations.

Democrats reacted furiously to the failed procedural votes.

"It is disappointing that a sitting member of Congress with over 40 years of relevant experience was denied an up-or-down vote by a minority of senators today," said Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson, D-S.D., in a statement. "It is not a secret that this vote was pure obstructionist politics at play."