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White House concerned over Senate vote on mortgage regulator

Representative Mel Watt testifies before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee confirmation hearing to be the regulator of
Representative Mel Watt testifies before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee confirmation hearing to be the regulator of

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration expressed concern on Wednesday that Republicans may block a vote in the U.S. Senate on the nomination of the president's choice to regulate mortgage finance firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The Senate scheduled a procedural vote on the nomination of Representative Mel Watt to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, for early afternoon on Thursday.

Watt is expected to win the support of all Democrats and the two independents who vote with them, a total of 55, assuming New Jersey Senator-elect Cory Booker is sworn in by then, which is expected to happen.

However, a senior Democratic aide said it is unknown how much Republican support Watt would get. The North Carolina Democrat needs to attract at least 60 votes in the 100-seat chamber to win the procedural vote and move to a final up-or-down vote.

"There is talk that in the Senate tomorrow that people will refuse to even allow him an up-or-down vote," White House National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling told reporters.

Sperling said the administration believes there are Republicans who will support Watt's nomination, but does not know how many.

"We do not have an exact vote count but we are working hard to make sure that there is the adequate support for Mel Watt to be confirmed," Sperling told reporters on a conference call.

Sperling and Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan urged the Senate to allow such a vote on Watt, who has a long record on the House Financial Services Committee.

"If one thing is clear it's that Mel Watt deserves an up-or-down vote," Sperling said.

Obama nominated Watt to replace Edward DeMarco as head of the FHFA on May 1, but the nomination has stalled.

The White House met earlier this week with housing and financial services groups to try to get them to pressure Senate Republicans into allowing the chamber to move directly to a final vote.

(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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