WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday evening confirmed Rep. Mel Watt to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency, thanks to a historic filibuster rule change launched by Democrats late last month.

Watt's nomination stalled in the Senate earlier this fall because of Republican opposition. But his bid was reconsidered this week after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid lowered the number of required votes to 51 for judicial and executive nominees, down from 60. The North Carolina Democrat cleared a procedural hurdle on Tuesday with a vote of 57-40. The final vote confirming him to head the FHFA was 57-41.

"He's the right person to protect Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day, and he'll be the right regulator to make sure the kind of crisis we just went through never happens again," President Obama said in a statement.

Watt will succeed Edward DeMarco, who has been acting head of the FHFA since 2009. DeMarco proved to be a controversial figure, with many Democrats, including Obama, criticizing him for not allowing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to reduce principal amounts for struggling borrowers. Republicans, however, had defended DeMarco, arguing he was correctly using his position to protect taxpayer money after the government's seizure of Fannie and Freddie in 2008.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.