Biden's ATF nomination doing a Francisco Franco?

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

It’s been months since Joe Biden tapped gun-control advocate David Chipman to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. A month ago, the Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked on Chipman’s nomination, forcing Chuck Schumer to force the nomination to the full Senate. And there it sits, dead in the water, as the Washington Post reports, because Schumer can’t corral all of his fellow Democrats to support Chipman, which the Post blames on “contentious dynamics of gun politics”:

“This is a highly controversial position. It has been left vacant because Republicans and Democrats couldn’t find someone to fill the slot,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said last week. “It’s no wonder that we’re having some difficulty with it.”

On Tuesday, Durbin — who is also the Senate Democrats’ whip, or chief vote-counter — acknowledged again that the votes are not there yet for Chipman to win confirmation.

“Still not ready for a vote,” Durbin said. He declined to identify which senators presented the biggest obstacles. “Let’s just say we’re working it.”

It’s not just contentious dynamics, whatever that means. Chipman spent the last four years as a well-paid lobbyist for one gun-control group, and a few months in 2012-13 lobbying for Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety. Imagine, if you will, what the media would have written if Donald Trump had nominated NRA president Wayne LaPierre or former NRA-ILA chief lobbyist Chris Cox for the ATF position. It’s a safe bet that the Post would be a lot more explicit about that than “contentious dynamics.” (Note well that the word “lobbyist” never appears in this article by Seung Min Kim and Paul Kane.)

By nominating Chipman, Biden stuck his thumb in the eye of responsible gun owners, which he might have been able to do … if the Senate wasn’t split 50/50. Biden has put fellow Democrats in gun-rights states in a bind instead. Senators like Joe Manchin, Jon Tester, and the up-for-election-next-year Mark Kelly would have to explain a vote for a gun-control lobbyist in an enforcement position at ATF, and those explanations would not be easy. Or would they be likely to succeed.

Still, Chipman and Biden appear to be valiantly hanging onto this nomination in its fight to remain dead. And dead it still appears to be, with Tester suggesting that it might never come up for a vote:

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) has also stressed for weeks that he is reviewing the nomination, and he hinted to reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday that it could be withdrawn.

“I’m still reviewing it, and I’m not even sure it’s going to come up,” Tester told reporters.

And of course there’s also Joe Manchin, who once cut a campaign ad for deep-red West Virginia that showed him firing a bullet into a cap-and-trade bill. Manchin has tried to help Chipman and Biden out, hosting a Zoom town hall and introducing Chipman to WV governor Jim Justice, but there’s no way Manchin votes for Chipman and then runs again for anything in West Virginia. That would be the ultimate sell-out for West Virginia voters, where gun rights are a priority and where Democrats not named Manchin can’t win at nearly any level.

If Biden wanted to help his fellow Democrats in the Senate, he’d pull Chipman’s nomination. The longer this festers, the worse it looks for all of them. This nomination is as dead as Francisco Franco, no matter how long Biden drags it out.