Sen. Heitkamp flying back to Washington to cast decisive vote on ATF nominee

The Senate is waiting for Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) to cast the deciding vote on whether to end debate on President Obama’s nominee to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

The Senate started the cloture vote on Todd Jones’ nomination at 2 p.m. on Wednesday. The current vote count stands at 59-40, one vote short of the 60 votes needed to advance the nominee.

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Six Republicans have voted with Democrats to end debate. After more than 30 minutes of pushing from colleagues, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) switched her vote and joined GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Mark Kirk (Ill.) in voting to advance Jones' nominations.

Heitkamp has missed all of the votes this week because she’s been back in her home state. A spokesperson for Heitkamp said the senator is on her way to Washington and would cast a “yes” vote.

“Sen. Heitkamp is currently on her way to Washington from North Dakota,” the spokesperson said. “If the vote is held open, she would like to be able to cast her vote.”

After cloture is invoked, the Senate is expected to proceed to a final confirmation vote on Jones' around 7 p.m.

Earlier this month, the Senate Judiciary Committee cleared Jones’ nomination on a party line 10-8 vote.

The bureau hasn’t had a leader for seven years. Democrats have complained that Republicans have opposed ATF directors because of opposition from the National Rifle Association.

Ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said he wouldn’t support Jones’ nomination because he is accused of “retaliating against a whistle blower.”

“The Senate should not be voting on a nomination when there is an open investigation,” Grassley said ahead of the vote. “To be honest, we don’t know the full story, but there is an open investigation of serious accusations on retaliation against whistle blower activity. … These are serious charges.”