Obama nominates new heads of FCC and federal housing agency

WASHINGTON -- President Obama on Wednesday nominated new heads of the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, saying they would both help expand the economy.

Obama tapped venture capitalist Thomas Wheeler to replace Julius Genachowski as FCC chairman. And,  responding to criticism of FHFA acting director Edward DeMarco, Obama nominated Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) to head the agency that regulates seized housing finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The housing market is recovering, but more needs to be done to help struggling homeowners, Obama said at a White House ceremony. If confirmed as director of the FHFA, Watt would be in a position to help, Obama said.

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"We've got working families who are doing everything right but still owe more on their homes than they're worth," he said.

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DeMarco has refused to allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to reduce the principal on mortgages it backs to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure. Many Democrats and liberal activists have called for Obama to nominate a replacement.

Watt, a 20-year House veteran, has "fought to give more Americans in low-income neighborhoods access to affordable housing," Obama said.

Citing Watt's long tenure on the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees Fannie and Freddie, Obama said, "Mel understands as well as anybody what caused the housing crisis."

"He knows what it's going to take to help responsible homeowners fully recover, and he's committed to helping folks just like his mom, Americans who work really hard, play by the rules day in and day out to provide for their families," Obama said.

But many Republicans have said DeMarco is doing an excellent job protecting the approximately $187 billion in bailout money paid to Fannie and Freddie. Senate Republicans are likely to try to block Watt's nomination.

Wheeler should have an easier path to confirmation.

Before becoming managing director of Core Capital Partners in Washington, D.C., he headed trade groups for the cable television and wireless communications industries.

"Tom is the only member of both the cable television and the wireless industry hall of fame," Obama said. "And that’s because for more than 30 years, Tom has been at the forefront of some of the very dramatic changes that we’ve seen in the way we communicate and how we live our lives."

Wheeler's nomination is expected to be paired with that of a Republican to replace outgoing FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell. On Wednesday, Obama designated Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn to be acting chair when Genachowski formally steps down in the coming weeks.

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