Will King torpedo Chipman's nomination to ATF?

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File

A better question: Will it be Angus King alone who finally gets the White House to cut bait on its nominee to the ATF? Politico reports that while King hasn’t publicly committed to a position on Chipman, the independent senator from Maine has told the White House privately that he won’t support the gun-control lobbyist for the position.

King’s not the only member of the Senate Democrat caucus to balk at support, though:

The low-key independent, a member of the Democratic Caucus, has declined to publicly state his position on David Chipman, whom Biden nominated to run the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. But he has signaled to both the Biden administration and his Democratic colleagues that he is currently not supportive of the nominee, as he comes under pressure to buck a pick seen as resistant to gun rights in a state where hunting and gun rights are part of many voters’ DNA.

King has told colleagues in the past week that he is currently a “no” on the nomination, according to a Democratic senator. King told the White House in recent days that he is unlikely to vote for Chipman, according to two others familiar with the discussions. All of those sources cautioned that King could change his mind. …

King’s current position signals that Chipman’s nomination — already facing long odds — is decidedly on the rocks. Several other Democratic senators, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana, said this week they remained undecided.

It’s a bit odd to see this focus on King as a bellwether on the nomination. Maine is a purple state at best, while Montana and West Virginia are both deep-red states. It will only take one Democrat to torpedo this nomination, and Joe Manchin and Jon Tester have a lot more to lose in their decision. Why not focus on them?

In fact, while neither man has explicitly stated their position on Chipman, Tester hinted last week that he’s skeptical that Chipman will get a vote at all:

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for weeks that he is reviewing the nomination, and he hinted to reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday that it could be withdrawn.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.

Given the constituencies involved, it seems more likely that Tester and Manchin will vote against Chipman. Perhaps that makes King’s curious reluctance to reveal his position all the more intriguing. If King’s not convinced, then it’s almost certain that the other two Democrats won’t go along with Joe Biden on this nomination.In a 50/50 Senate, any Democratic defections would mean that Chipman’s toast.

At this point, it’s tough to see why any senator not already on board with Chipman would move to yes at this point. That’s especially true after Chipman’s undisclosed appearance on Chinese state media came to light:

Chipman appeared on China Global Television Network in December 2012 to discuss the Newtown, Ct., massacre in which 28 people were killed.

Chipman’s interview furthered a propaganda strategy to distract from a stabbing attack that claimed the lives of 23 children in China’s Heinan Province the same day. Chinese media gave scant attention to the stabbing and instead focused on the Sandy Hook shooting, Reuters reported at the time.

Chipman’s interview on the Sandy Hook shooting is available on YouTube. The Trump administration required CGTN to register as a foreign agent in 2019, along with a host of other Chinese state media outlets.

To be fair, it’s probably impossible for a lobbyist to recall every media appearance he or she makes in the course of a decade. This appearance should have been somewhat memorable, given its topic and the manipulation of it by China’s propagandists, but it was also eight years ago. The failure to disclose it on his confirmation responses might truly just be an unintentional oversight on Chipman’s part, but at this stage the intent doesn’t make much difference. Chipman needs reasons to get the hesitant Senate Democrats from no to yes, and this has only the potential to push them in the other direction.

The fact that King’s the focus here tells us that Democrats may be stuck at 47 votes at best for Chipman. After all this twisting in the wind, other members of the caucus may be hoping that the Biden White House finds a good way to move on to another candidate.