WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Democratic Congressman Mel Watt to head the regulatory agency that controls the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

It took two attempts, but the Senate on Tuesday confirmed North Carolina Democrat Mel Watt to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

After Senate Republicans initially blocked Watt’s confirmation this fall, Senate Democrats changed the rules, clearing the path by eliminating the use of the filibuster to block certain presidential nominees.

Watt will now serve as President Obama’s top housing regulator with oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

During his Senate confirmation hearing, Watt signaled his support for pushing the housing finance industry back toward the private sector and for better access to mortgages for low-income borrowers.

It’s something President Obama mentioned when nominating Watt.

“Mel has led efforts to rein in unscrupulous mortgage lenders. He’s helped protect consumers from the kind of reckless risk-taking that led to the financial crisis in the first place. And he’s fought to give more Americans in low-income neighborhoods access to affordable housing,” said President Obama.

The 68-year-old Watt wasn’t in Washington on Tuesday. He’s traveling with the U.S. delegation that attended Nelson Mandela’s memorial in South Africa.

Watt’s confirmation sets up a scramble among Democrats to win his Congressional seat. Watt’s office was asked if the congressman had any thoughts about who should replace him in representing the state’s 12th District, but they said he had no comment at this time.

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