President Biden’s pick to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives will likely spark a brutal confirmation fight as resistance from lawmakers has sunk the last two nominees for the post.
Mr. Biden on Monday will announce the nomination of Steve Dettelbach to be the new director of the ATF. A former prosecutor, Mr. Dettelbach has experience working with law enforcement to dismantle violent criminal gangs and oversee gun cases.
A senior administration official described him as “highly respected,” with a “proven track record” of cracking down on illegal firearms.
But the pick has already received mixed reviews, with gun control groups hailing Mr. Dettelbach’s nomination while Second Amendment advocates slammed the pick.
Everytown for Gun Safety called Mr. Dettelbach “a strong leader the ATF needs to lead a top-to-bottom overhaul of the agency.” It called for a swift confirmation hearing in the Senate.
The American Firearms Association characterized him as “a radical anti-gun” extremist. They predict he will move to ban sales of AR-15s and other firearms and establish a national registry of firearms.
The steepest hurdle Mr. Dettelbach will face is in the Senate, where deep divisions over gun policy have derailed the two most recent picks to head the ATF. Both Mr. Biden and former President Trump had to withdraw their picks for their position after lawmaker support dwindled and the nominees were left languishing for months.
Even more surprising is that Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump faced resistance from their own parties to confirm their nominees.
Since the ATF director became a Senate-confirmed position in 2006, it has had only one permanent director, Byron Todd Jones, who served in the Obama administration from 2013 to 2015.
Gun advocate groups have opposed some nominees they fear will weaken Second Amendment protections, while liberal activists worry they won’t do enough to rein in gun violence.
Mr. Biden, in September, pulled the plug on his nomination of David Chipman to lead the ATF. His nomination had languished for months after lawmakers of both parties raised questions about his ties to the gun control advocacy group Giffords, which was founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona Democrat, who survived a mass shooting in 2011.
Mr. Chipman could have won confirmation if all the Senate Democrats had backed his nomination, but several of the chamber’s more moderate Democrats also raised questions about his positions. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana, and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, along with Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, would not commit to supporting Mr. Chipman.
Administration officials and Democratic leaders had opened conversations with the lawmakers but apparently could not make headway.
Republican opposition to Mr. Chipman was fierce, saying he advocated extreme gun-control policies that disqualified him to run the ATF.
Republican opposition also frustrated Mr. Trump, who pulled his nominee, Chuck Canterbury, after a disastrous confirmation hearing before the then-GOP-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee.
Mr. Canterbury, the former national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, rankled senators with evasive answers during his 2019 confirmation hearing. The nomination languished for a year before Mr. Trump withdrew the nominee amid dwindling support from Republicans.
Two Republican senators, Mike Lee of Utah, and John Kennedy of Louisiana, said at the 2019 confirmation hearing that Mr. Canterbury’s dodging would cost their votes.
“I like straight answers, and you are being evasive,” Mr. Kennedy said at the time. “You have been nominated to run ATF. I think every member of this panel, both my Democratic friends and Republican friends who have feelings about the Second Amendment, are entitled to know both morally and legally what you believe.”
• Jeff Mordock can be reached at email@example.com.
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