Senate Republicans block two Obama nominees

A U.S. flag flies in front of the dome of the U.S. Capitol February 12, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
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WASHINGTON In separate votes, Senate Republicans have blocked President Obama's nominee to head the federal agency that oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as well as his nominee to one of the most influential federal courts.

The Senate voted Thursday 56-42 for Rep. Melvin Watt's nomination. But that was 4 short of the 60 votes needed to end GOP delaying tactics.

Watt is a North Carolina Democrat whom Obama picked to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency as the wounded housing industry has begun to recover. Democrats said Watt's 21 years in the House, on the Financial Services Committee, gave him expertise needed for the job.

Republicans say Watt is too political, while conservative groups have attacked his support for government involvement in the housing industry.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are the giant government-owned mortgage lenders that own or back half of U.S. mortgages.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama had nominated Patricia Millett to join the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Millett has worked as a lawyer for both Democratic and Republican administrations.

The court rules on federal agency actions and is considered second in power only to the Supreme Court.

The Senate voted 55-38 Thursday to halt GOP delaying tactics against her nomination. But that was 5 votes short of the 60 needed to end the Republican blockade.

Republicans said they oppose Millett because they want to prevent Democratic-appointed judges on the D.C. Circuit Court from having a 5-4 majority.