After drama and delay, Senate confirms Obama's nominee to head ATF

The Senate voted 53-42 Wednesday to confirm the nomination of B. Todd Jones to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

The vote came after nearly five hours of delay. Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp had to fly back from her home state of North Dakota at the last minute after Democrats came up one vote short of ending debate on the nomination.

Six Republicans voted with Democrats to end debate in a 60-40 vote. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) switched her vote to advance Jones’s nomination after her colleagues pressured her on the Senate floor. She joined GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Mark Kirk (Ill.). 

Ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said he wouldn’t support Jones’s 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.”

Grassley said promoting Jones would not help restore public confidence in the bureau after the “botched” “Fast and Furious” gun-walking operation.

The ATF hasn’t had a leader for seven years. Democrats have complained that Republicans have opposed directors for the bureaubecause of the National Rifle Association’s powerful lobby. 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the agency “deserves” a leader.

“There are 24,000 ATF agents and they have gone without a leader for seven years, since it became an appointment position,” Klobuchar said. “It is simply time to change that.”

Jones has served as the Minnesota U.S. attorney and acting director of ATF. 

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

— Updated at 8:42 p.m.