WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- Several groups, including housing and civil rights, are calling for U.S. Rep. Melvin Watt's swift confirmation as the new head of the Federal Housing Finance Authority.

On Wednesday, Alan Jenkins, executive director of Opportunity Agenda, a national organization that works to expand opportunity in housing and homeownership, said Watt's confirmation would be a "victory" for homeowners, taxpayers and the country's economic recovery.

"Congressman Watt has a long history of promoting economic opportunity, demanding fair rules, and opposing predatory lending practices," Jenkins said in a statement.

In May, President Barack Obama nominated Watt, a North Carolina Democrat, to be the new director of the FHFA, the agency that manages Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac following the 2008 financial crisis.

Watt has served as a Congressman since 1993 and has served for all of his 20 years as a member of the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees housing policy.

"In that capacity, Mel has led efforts to rein in unscrupulous mortgage lenders," the President said in May. "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."

Obama continued, "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."

However, Watt's confirmation has stalled for nearly six months.

"For months, a wide coalition of housing, consumer, and civil rights groups -- called the Home for Good Campaign -- has been calling on the White House to replace the acting director of the FHFA, Edward DeMarco, with a director who will uphold the agency's mission to 'support housing finance and affordable housing, and support a stable and liquid mortgage market.'

"As the campaign has long insisted, it's time to 'Dump DeMarco and Hire a Hero,'" Jenkins said.

He said, among other failures, DeMarco has "doggedly" blocked principal correction -- adjusting mortgage principal to reflect the fair market value of homes that are now worth less than homeowners owe on their mortgages.

"Despite incentives from the Treasury Department and undisputed evidence from his own agency, DeMarco has refused to pursue the clear path to strengthen the economy while helping homeowners get back on track," Jenkins continued.

"We are in the wake of a full scale government shutdown and Congress cannot afford more inaction on such a crucial issue, neither can American families."

A group of state attorneys general also want the Senate to move forward on Watt's confirmation.

The nine attorneys general argued in a March 15 letter that under DeMarco's leadership, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been a "direct impediment to our economic recovery."

The attorneys general included California's Kamala Harris, Delaware's Beau Biden, Illinois' Lisa Madigan, Maryland's Doug Gansler, Massachusetts' Martha Coakley, Nevada's Catherine Cortez Masto, New York's Eric Schneiderman, Oregon's Ellen Rosenblum and Washington's Bob Ferguson.

On Monday, 54 civil and human rights groups, including Opportunity Agenda, AFL-CIO, Alliance for Justice, American Association for Justice, NAACP, National Fair Housing Alliance, People For the American Way and Public Citizen, sent a letter to the Senate, urging federal lawmakers to confirm Watt.

The groups cite Watts' 40 years of experience in housing and finance, and his advocacy for struggling homeowners.

"Rep. Watt was one of the first members of Congress to speak out against the predatory mortgage lending practices that characterized the boom in subprime lending, and that eventually contributed to widespread economic devastation," their letter states.

"Rep. Watt rightly led the push for legislation that would have required safety, soundness and fairness to prevail over the blind rush for short-term profits."

This week, the White House urged the Senate to move forward on Watt's nomination.

According to Politico, he is still a couple votes shy of the 60 needed to bypass GOP opposition. That vote, Politico reported Wednesday morning, could happen Thursday.

On Monday, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., threatened to hold up all Senate appointments, including Watt's, until the Obama administration answers questions about last September's Benghazi attack.

Four people were killed in the Sept. 11, 2012 attack, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Nearly a dozen others were injured.

"I'm going to block every appointment in the United States Senate until the survivors (of the attack in Benghazi) are being made available to the Congress," Graham told Fox News.

"I'm tired of hearing from people on TV and reading about stuff in books."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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