WASHINGTON — Rep. Mel Watt cleared a procedural hurdle in the Senate Tuesday toward becoming the next director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, with a final confirmation vote to come as early as this afternoon.

The North Carolina Democrat's fortunes changed last month when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid changed chamber rules to do away with the filibuster for judicial and executive nominees. Watt failed to gain the 60 votes needed to clear a vote ending debate over his nomination in late October, calling into question his chances to replace FHFA Acting Director Edward DeMarco without more support from Republicans. But with the Senate rule change, Watt's confirmation is all but guaranteed now that a so-called cloture vote just requires 51 votes to succeed.

"I congratulate Congressman Watt on a successful cloture vote this morning and look forward to the Senate quickly confirming him as the Director of the FHFA," Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson, D-S.D., said in a statement. "It has been over five years since the FHFA's inception and this is the first time we will have a confirmed Director. Congressman Watt's confirmation will provide the housing market more certainty as our economy continues to recover from the financial crisis."

The procedural vote on Tuesday passed 57 to 40.

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