Obama Nominations: Two to Watch
Thus far, Obama has remade his cabinet in his second term with some push back from Republicans in certain areas. For example, there were questions about Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be Defense Secretary. John Kerry, being a sitting Senator, more or less got a free ride although his rhetoric and votes at times were to the left of his predecessor, Hillary Clinton. There are other troubling ones like Jack Lew at Treasury who, if Bob Woodward’s book is to believed and there is no good reason to disbelieve it, was the chief architect of actually scuttling a grand bargain between Obama and John Boehner in 2012. There are others that concern this writer. Thomas Perez at the Department of Labor is disconcerting considering the man’s background. Notably, he has been very cozy with liberal groups and unions his entire political career. While a politician in Maryland, he headed up an organization called Casa de Maryland which openly served the Hispanic community, including those here illegally. As one union leader described him, he is a friend of both worker and human rights. Hence, we could have a Secretary of Labor running the department akin to how Jimmy Carter ran his foreign policy- a total debacle. Additionally, as head of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, he most famously went after Sheriff Joe Arapaio in Maricopa County, Arizona. At Labor, there is the potential to have a human rights-motivated, pro-labor, pro-illegal immigrant Secretary at the very time immigration reform is being proposed in Congress.
But this entry is about two other nominees that should be opposed for different reasons- Anthony Foxx at the Department of Transportation and Melvin Watt at the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Generally under normal conditions, neither of these departments would necessarily raise any eyebrows. However, with Obama’s commitment to green energy and stimulus spending for the increasingly and realistically non-existent shovel-ready transportation projects, the DOT takes on greater significance especially since Foxx would preside over an agency that receives vast amount of funds. In Watt’s case at the FHFA, Obama and some law makers (Watt included) have started making grumblings about the fact that subprime borrowers are being shut out of the resurgent housing market. In short, Obama and his minions are, in effect, arguing for the very same set of conditions that was clearly a contributing cause to the housing market collapse and resulting great recession of 2009. The FHFA is responsible for oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac who together basically backstop 90% of all mortgages in the United States.
What makes Foxx’s nomination somewhat questionable is based on ethics concerns while with Watt, it is more policy-driven and politically ideological. First, Anthony Foxx. Foxx, some readers may remember, is the former African-American mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina which hosted the Democratic National Convention in 2012. As the mayor of the host city, he was on television constantly being a cheerleader for Obama and his policies. In fact, he counts himself as a close friend of Obama. When announcing his nomination, Obama touted his accomplishments as mayor of Charlotte, particularly in the transportation area. If one was to look at his accomplishments from far away, then you may come away impressed. For example, despite being the nation’s 23rd largest city, Charlotte has become the number 6 airline hub in the United States. That is because it costs, on average, about 96 cents per passenger to “enplane” them. The national average is about $10 a passenger with some rates, like those in the New York City area reaching $45 per passenger.
However, if one goes more local, one finds that Foxx is not the transportation messiah Obama makes him to be. When a member of City Council in Charlotte, for example, he came under criticism when his wife, Samara, was given a $100,000 job with the Department of Social Services during a hiring freeze. Her tenure there did not last long under continuing accusations of nepotism in hiring. But hey- the Foxx family DID get $100,000 in salary towards their income for over a year. A 2011 trip to China by Foxx came under scrutiny also. Local reporters discovered that the trip was paid for by a non-profit group called the Charlotte International Cabinet. This group serves to present Charlotte as an international city and to draw business. They also receive money from the city to do this. In 2011, they paid $1,350 for an economy class seat for Foxx’s trip to China which apparently Foxx disagreed with and wanted an upgrade to business class which the Cabinet said was not possible. Foxx ended up upgrading the ticket himself- about another $1,000 out of his pocket. So far, so good until one of his staffers- Tray Montross- sent an threatening e-mail to the Cabinet saying that if they did not reimburse Foxx the $1,000, there would be consequences for the group in the next round of budget deliberations.
While the charge-per-passenger is exceedingly low- the main reason Charlotte is the #6 hub in the US- Foxx is trying to kill the goose that laid the city’s golden egg. Recently, he replaced airport police with the more expensive Charlotte Police Force (union, of course) and used the recent runway addition as justification to hire more firefighters at the airport (union, of course) than what the airport’s own manager deemed necessary. Both these actions only serve to run up the costs of airport administration while providing union jobs and increasing union coffers. The whole scenario is so out of hand that the state legislature wants to remove the airport from city control and give it to a regional authority. Finally, there is the case of DesignLine Corp. where Foxx is an in-house lawyer since the Mayor of Charlotte is a part-time position. That company, which delivers energy efficient buses using alternative fuels or hybrid technology, has a woeful record in delivering on their contracts, especially while Foxx was their lawyer. For example, the City of Los Angeles cancelled a contract after they failed to deliver. To make matters worse, the company received a $2 million down payment under the 2009 porkulus package and had they delivered, would have received $14.4 million. Thus far, most law makers in Congress have not questioned this aspect of his alleged “stellar” career. Most likely, Foxx will gain confirmation although one would have to question his business acumen and considering that the DOT oversees 55,000 employees with a $75 billion annual budget, Congress would remiss in their duties if they did not raise these ethical concerns.
Over at the FHFA, North Carolina congressman Melvin Watt has been nominated to lead that agency. This former head of the Congressional Black caucus- a depository of left wing ideology and race-baiting politics if there ever was one- is not without controversy on the ideological level. Watt meets the two apparent quota criteria for Obama’s second term administration- more racial diversity (an area where he has been criticized by his supporters) and more liberal appointees (an area where he has been criticized by his supporters also). In short, Watt has never met a government expenditure he does not support. He is yet another poster boy for the ultimate tax-and-spend liberal, but what makes him worse is that he tends to see race in everything. Take, for example, this accusation from Ralph Nader in 2004 where he alleges that Watt referred to Nader, who was addressing the Congressional Black Caucus, as “…just another arrogant white man- telling us what we can do-…” There were also some expletives thrown in there for good measure.
Melvin Watt is a liberal’s liberal and was most likely a person that Alan West had in mind when he referred to some members of Congress as being Communist, although he probably should have said “openly socialist.” When you join the likes of Bobby Rush and Barbara Lee on a trip to Cuba to meet and then laud Raul Castro, this writer believes that perhaps West was more correct than not. The most troubling aspect of this nomination is that at a time when, at least statistically, the housing market is showing a rebound, someone like Melvin Watt will intervene and rock the boat that is righting itself. As mentioned earlier, there are already rumblings from liberals in Congress that those objectively unworthy of a home loan are “being shut out” of home ownership. It was a series of events that led to the housing collapse and morons like Paul Krugman and company can lay 100% of the blame at the feet of “greedy Wall Street types” all they want, but the fact is that had the government not insisted on banks relaxing mortgage underwriting guidelines, the effect would have at least been mitigated. Watt, as head of the agency that will oversee the agencies that have a hand in 90% of the mortgages in America, will wield enormous power in a stealth manner.
And here is the funniest part about Melvin Watt- he represents perhaps the most racially gerrymandered congressional districts in the country. That is, without the blessing of the liberal redistricting to produce an area conducive to the election of a black representative and only a black representative, Melvin Watt would likely be just another black lawyer and local politician in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. Considering the fact that head of the FHFA requires highly technical skills and the fact that other than Congress, Watt lacks any experience in the banking, mortgage or finance sectors, one reason for his nomination becomes obvious- Obama responding to criticisms regarding the lack of racial diversity in his administration picks. In effect, Watt is yet again the recipient of racial gerrymandering. As Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) recently said, this nomination is an example of “the fox guarding the hen house.” And in his roll out of the nomination, note how Obama touted his humble beginnings and championing of “the little guy.” Nowhere, other than consumer protection of the utmost liberal kind, does Watt hold the qualifications to hold this job. This is nothing but a naked appeasement of Obama’s liberal base who feel that the administration’s ethnic make up should somehow mirror the population at large. This is nomination affirmative action gone seriously awry.
In conclusion, no one should object to nominating the most qualified person available and if they happen to be black, Hispanic or a woman, then all the more power to them. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if they were objectively equal in qualifications, perhaps the scales should tip to the black, Hispanic or woman. However, that is not, objectively speaking, always the case. And in the case of perhaps Anthony Foxx and definitely Melvin Watt, that is clearly not the case. The Senate must aggressively review these nominations not only for ethical concerns (Watt has some in his past also), but also for qualifications. In Watt’s case, the most pressing concern is how the government intends to unwind Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and relieve the American taxpayer of their burden. My guess is that Watt will somehow tout consumer protection without really offering up a plan. Geez- even Timothy Geitner had a plan. In Foxx’s case, besides the ethical concerns, he must articulate how the DOT will handle sequestration cuts going forward and how he will administer a $75 billion budget. Given his record in this area in Charlotte (really? Empty trolleys?) this rising star in the Democratic Party deserves some tough questions.