Biden’s ATF nominee withdraws amid bipartisan pushback
President Biden on Thursday pulled the nomination of David Chipman to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) after Republicans unified to oppose the pick and one independent senator expressed reservations.
Two sources familiar with the matter confirmed Thursday morning that the White House would withdraw Chipman’s nomination. Biden, in a statement issued Thursday afternoon, blamed Republican opposition for the decision. But one source said it was Sen. Angus King’s (I-Maine) opposition that ultimately doomed Chipman’s chances of confirmation in the 50-50 Senate.
“[Chipman] 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 in a statement.
Biden accused Republicans of using gun crime “as a political talking point instead of taking serious steps to address it.” He cited the GOP’s opposition to a nearly $2 trillion stimulus package passed earlier this year that included funding for local law enforcement.
Chipman, whom Biden nominated in April, faced opposition from Republican senators and pushback from some moderate Democrats concerned about his work with the gun control group Giffords.
Chipman is an ex-ATF agent who has spent the last several years advising Giffords, the gun control advocacy group founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) after she was shot in the head in 2011. Chipman was offered a position at the Department of Justice, one source said, but intends to turn it down.
“I knew this confirmation process would be difficult, and 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,” Chipman said in a statement.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in August that Biden “felt quite confident” in Chipman’s “qualifications and his ability to lead the agency at a time where it hasn’t been led for many years.”
But Chipman’s path to confirmation was unclear, as some Democrats remained on the fence about the pick. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.)had yet to say whether they would vote for Chipman, and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) had reportedly expressed concerns to the White House about the nomination.
Donald Trump Jr., the son of the former president, urged supporters to call on their senators to oppose the Chipman nomination. And gun rights groups, including the NRA, had fiercely lobbied against the pick, arguing Chipman would infringe on gun owners’ rights by pushing for restrictions on certain high-capacity firearms.
“Chipman was the wrong candidate for many reasons. From an administration that claims it wants to be unifying, it could not have picked a more polarizing nominee,” Jason Ouimet, executive director of the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the ATF confirmation process, welcomed the news of Chipman’s impending withdrawal.
“Mr. Chipman’s long record as a partisan, anti-Second Amendment activist raised plenty of concerns about how he’d administer federal firearms laws. But that wasn’t the only cause for concern,” Grassley said in a statement.
The Senate has confirmed only one ATF nominee, in 2013, since the position required confirmation from the chamber.
Biden described Chipman’s confirmation as an integral part of his agenda to bring down gun violence in the wake of multiple mass shootings earlier this year. Biden hailed Chipman in April as “the right person, at this moment, for this important agency.”
Jordain Carney contributed to this report, which was updated at 1:51 p.m.