Maybe, just maybe, President Barack Obama is beginning to unleash a few of the surprises many of his loyalists predicted he would during his second term.
In almost back-to-back nominations, the president tapped Anthony Foxx, the mayor of Charlotte, N.C., to be the next secretary of transportation and Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Both nominees are African-Americans and it may help to stem detractors and their concern about diversity and his not having more Black cabinet members.
Of course, they are only nominees, and of the two, Watt may have the roughest road in his quest to oversee Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Already there’s push back from Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
“I could not be more disappointed in this nomination,” said Corker in a press statement, referring to Watt. “This gives new meaning to the adage that the fox is guarding the hen house.”
Even some liberals seem to be concerned about Watt’s closeness to the financial industry, possibly because of Watt’s opposition to representatives who sought to audit the Federal Reserve back in 2009.
Regardless, Obama praised the 67-year-old lawmaker who, for two decades in Congress, “helped protect consumers from the kind of reckless risk-taking that led to the financial crisis in the first place,” the president told reporters shortly after making his announcement last Wednesday. “He’s fought to give more Americans in low-income neighborhoods access to affordable housing.”
Watt let the president do all the speaking for the moment, though he’s not known to be the silent type who cowers before adversaries. If approved, he will replace Edward DeMarco, who has been acting director for four years.
Among the committees Watt has served on is the House Financial Services Committee, which should give him some insight into the pressing issue of banking and foreclosures. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said that Watt is “a thoughtful policymaker with a deep background in finance and a long record as a champion for working families.”
This is the second time Obama has attempted to replace DeMarco, with whom he has differed on the issue of forgiving some mortgage debts.
During the Democratic National Convention last year in Charlotte, Foxx was in the spotlight practically every day and he apparently made the most of it as a very effective host.
His confirmation may be easier than Watt’s, but it won’t be a walk in the park, and there are sure to be naysayers who will call into question his age, 42, and his experience, particularly for such a challenging cabinet post as transportation head. If all he has to show for his bona fides in transportation is fixing potholes in Charlotte or expanding a local streetcar line, the confirmation process may turn out to be just as hotly contested as Watt’s.
But the president is clearly confident that he’s picked the right man to repair the nation’s anemic infrastructure, create jobs, and boost a lagging economy. “Charlotte made one of the largest investments in transportation,” Obama said at the nomination ceremony in the East Room of the White House. “All of that has not only helped create new jobs, it’s helped Charlotte become more attractive to business.”
Things are looking up in Charlotte nowadays, and much of that is attributable to Foxx’s leadership, which has been widely commended.
He will need all of that power and influence he’s garnered to make it through the confirmation process–and much more if and when he takes the reins on the runaway train of transportation.