White House yanks its pick as top guns regulator

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The White House on Thursday withdrew David Chipman's nomination to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms after resistance from Senate Democratic centrists imperiled his bid.

Chipman, currently an official at the gun control group Giffords, faced fierce opposition from all 50 Senate Republicans but also didn’t have the votes to be confirmed along party lines in the 50-50 Senate. Nonetheless, President Joe Biden blamed Republicans for the failure of the nomination even as he acknowledged that the White House knew the confirmation battle “wouldn’t be easy.”

“He would have been an exemplary Director of the ATF and would have redoubled its efforts to crack down on illegal firearms traffickers and help keep our communities safe from gun violence,” Biden said, praising Chipman for his work as an ATF agent as well as his advocacy on gun control. “Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress have made clear that they intend to use gun crime as a political talking point instead of taking serious steps to address it.”

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) had previously told the Biden administration and Senate Democrats that he was not supportive of the nominee. Other centrist Democratic senators, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana, had also remained noncommittal on the pick. Chipman's failed nomination, the second major pick Biden has had to withdraw during his eight months in office, highlights Congress' continued paralysis on gun control after years of mostly failed efforts at bipartisan reform.

During his confirmation hearing, Senate Republicans pressed Chipman over a recent interview in which he said new gun owners who have no training should only bring their guns out "if the zombies start to appear." The nominee responded that the comments were “self-deprecating.”

The committee deadlocked on the nomination along party lines, which would have forced the Senate to vote to discharge him.

Following news of his withdrawal, Chipman acknowledged that he “knew this confirmation process would be difficult.

“While ultimately we weren’t successful, it remains essential that ATF is led by a confirmed Director who is accountable to the public and places no special interests before the safety of our children and our communities,” he said.

GOP senators cheered news of Chipman’s failed nomination. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, issued a statement criticizing Chipman's "long record as a partisan, anti-Second Amendment activist.”

Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in a statement said that Chipman was “the latest target” of gun rights groups who are “determined to leave the Director’s position vacant” and called on the Biden administration to send another ATF nominee to the Senate “as soon as possible.”

Chipman isn’t the only high profile White House nominee to be withdrawn amid opposition from members of the Democratic caucus. Neera Tanden, Biden’s initial pick to lead the White House Office of Management and Budget, withdrew in March amid opposition from Manchin and all 50 Senate Republicans.

Tanden ultimately joined the White House in a non-Senate-confirmed capacity as a senior adviser, however, and Chipman may also find a path into the Biden administration. A source close to Chipman said that the Justice Department offered him a position but that he turned it down.

Nonetheless, the decision to pull the nomination sparked frustration from gun control advocate Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter was killed in the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla. "I am truly upset," tweeted Guttenberg, a Biden ally. "We have weak people serving the Senate such as @SenAngusKing who chose to listen to 'regulated industry.' Sadly the White House failed to put up a fight on this."

The Senate has confirmed only one ATF nominee: B. Todd Jones in 2013.

Anita Kumar contributed to this report.