Senate confirms Steve Dettelbach to head ATF

The Senate voted 48-46 on Tuesday, mostly along party lines, to confirm President Biden’s nomination of Steve Dettelbach to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

Dettelbach will be the first Senate-confirmed director to head the ATF since 2015, providing a small victory for Biden amid a rise in mass shootings in the U.S. His confirmation follows the president signing a far-reaching gun control measure into law late last month.

Dettelbach received support from two Republicans: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Rob Portman (Ohio). Collins and Portman had also voted to advance the nominee and last month voted to discharge him from a deadlocked Senate panel.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Senate bypassed a filibuster of the nominee, despite the absences of Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), both of whom tested positive for COVID-19.

“I thank the Senate for their support,” Biden said in a statement following the confirmation. “And it is my hope that we can continue working together to keep Americans safe — especially our children — from mass shootings like those in Uvalde, Buffalo, and Highland Park, as well as the daily acts of gun violence that don’t make national headlines.”

Dettelbach is a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio who later co-led white-collar investigations at the law firm BakerHostetler. Biden nominated him in April after his first nominee to lead the ATF, David Chipman, did not receive enough support in the Senate and faced fierce opposition from gun rights groups.

Biden withdrew Chipman’s nomination in September because centrist Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) held back their support. Chipman had previously advised the gun violence prevention group Giffords, which was founded by gun violence survivor and former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.). The White House was criticized for not doing enough to advance his nomination.

During Dettelbach’s confirmation process, the White House made a point not to disclose its outreach to specific lawmakers but highlighted endorsements from various groups, including the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.

The White House has repeatedly cited filling the ATF vacancy as a key step to curbing gun violence.

Biden said that in the wake of the the gun control bill, “today’s vote is another important sign that both parties can come together to support law enforcement and stand up against the horrific scourge of gun violence.”

The president also reiterated that he doesn’t believe in defunding the police, but instead providing law enforcement with resources to combat the rise in crime in the U.S.

The most recent high-profile shooting, at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Ill., came weeks after Biden signed the gun control bill into law and left Democrats and allies frustrated the administration isn’t doing enough to prevent the next attack.

The bill did not go as far as Democrats and activists had wanted, and Biden has stressed that it’s a first step.

“We have so much more to do. I will continue to call on Congress to build on this momentum and ban assault weapons, expand background checks, and pass safe storage laws,” Biden said in his statement.

At an event at the White House to celebrate the bill on Monday, Biden repeated calls for Congress to reinstate the 1994 ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004.

A ban is hardly likely to pass the Senate, where Democrats need 10 Republicans to vote with them to overcome the 60-vote threshold to advance most legislation.

—Updated at 4:15 p.m.

Tags ATF Biden Charles Schumer David Chipman Gun control Joe Biden Richard Blumenthal Steve Dettelbach Susan Collins

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