Senate panel approves Obama ATF nominee

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines Thursday to send President Obama’s nominee to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to the Senate floor for a full vote.

Ten Democrats voted in favor of B. Todd Jones, the acting director and U.S. attorney for Minnesota, while 8 Republicans voted against him.

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Obama nominated Jones earlier this year as one of his 23 proposals to revamp the nation’s gun laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which killed 20 children and six adults.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the panel’s ranking member, objected to Jones, saying that there is an unresolved Office of Special Counsel (OSC) complaint against him in his capacity as U.S. attorney.

“I had hoped that the nominee would be held over again today, until the OSC complaint is closed, or until there is bipartisan agreement that no further investigation is warranted,” said Grassley.

“However, today, it appears the majority is intent on reporting out the nomination.”

Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) conducted a staff-led investigation into the charges against Jones, but the whistle-blower who made the complaint did not cooperate with the committee. 

Leahy said on Thursday that the complaint was actually not made toward Jones, but to a deputy under Jones’s supervision.

The staunch Republican objections to Jones, however, will be difficult for Democrats to overcome in a full Senate vote. 

The ATF has been without a director for the last seven years, when the National Rifle Association began lobbying senators to block the president’s nominees over fears that a strong agency would infringe on personal gun ownership rights.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) noted this trend during Thursday’s committee vote, saying that over the last decade there has been “a concerted effort to weaken” the ATF.

"Todd Jones is a uniquely qualified nominee — a former Marine, and current U.S. Attorney, with a proven record of successful leadership at ATF," the White House said in a statement late Thursday.

"The Senate has already unanimously confirmed him for the important law enforcement post in which he currently serves, so there’s no reason they should hold up his nomination to this post," the White House added. "We urge the full Senate to act swiftly to confirm him and give this vital law enforcement agency all the tools it needs to help keep Americans safe."

--This report was originally published at 5:02 p.m. and last updated at 8:23 p.m.