Mel Watt is a 20-year veteran of the Congress from Charlotte, a respected lawmaker, soft-spoken and thoughtful, and he is more than qualified to head the agency that oversees Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the huge mortgage lenders.
But it is Watts misfortune to come up for approval by the U.S. Senate at a time when Republicans are determined to repudiate President Obama no matter what, what being his comfortable re-election last year and his successful staredown of a pitiful Republican threat to keep the government shut down and the tea partys devil-may-care flirtation with defaulting on the nations debt.
Republican approval numbers are in the tank, and the party leadership appears to bow and scrape at the mercy of House tea partyers and the likes of that madcap filibustering wizard from Texas, Sen. Ted Cruz.
Perhaps they figure stopping nominations such as Watts and that of federal judicial nominees is all they have left to take it to the president they love to hate.
Their behavior is very nearly unprecedented. Its customary for members of Congress who are nominated for other offices to sail through confirmation, particularly those such as Watt, whos been in Congress since 1993.
Senate leader Harry Reid does have an option, and he ought to use it. He and Senate majority Democrats can change the procedures to eliminate a destructive rule that requires 60 votes to cut off debate on presidential nominees. Thats ridiculous, in that it allows a minority to block those nominees, who otherwise would pass with a majority of votes.
The threat to change the rules has been used, but Reid has hesitated because of fear that if Republicans were to regain a majority in the Senate, theyd do the same thing to Democrats. But heres a clue for the majority leader: Does he really believe that if the GOP got a Senate majority it would not change the rules anyway, given the harsh partisanship on Capitol Hill?
Democrats should change things to make a majority vote enough to close debate and move ahead with confirmation, period. Otherwise, its clear that for the remainder of the presidents term, Republicans are going to treat confirmations as grudge matches.
At a time when theyd beaten him up on the smallest of issues, when the economy was still struggling, the president defeated Mitt Romney, which represented not just a victory for him but a repudiation of the behavior of Republicans, who have helped to make the current edition of Congress call to mind President Harry Trumans label of do nothing for the lawmakers who constantly tortured him.
The truly worst thing about this is that his fellow members, Republicans included, know Mel Watt is qualified to hold the post for which hes been nominated. Oh, there may be some tea partyers and right-wing conservatives who still blame lower-income people trapped by lenders in bad mortgages for the economic downturn and see Watt as a champion of the disadvantaged. But that radical minority should not be empowered to stop his nomination.