Senate Confirms ATF Director
For the first time since 2006, there is a permanent director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the agency tasked with enforcing our nation’s gun laws. B. Todd Jones, U.S. Attorney for Minnesota, and the acting part-time director of the ATF, was confirmed by a vote of 53-42 yesterday evening.
The confirmation vote came only after an intense and prolonged vote for cloture. With 60 votes needed to move onto the final vote, the tally stood at 58 in favor and 41 opposed to cloture, with only Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) left to vote. Senator Heitkamp, who was expected to vote in favor of cloture, was on her way back to Washington after delaying her trip because she was sick. Even with Sen. Heitkamp’s expected vote, however, the cloture would have fallen one vote short.
The Chamber’s attention converged around Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), as Senators surrounded her trying to persuade her to change her vote and to join fellow Republicans John McCain (R-AZ), Susan Collins (R-ME), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) in voting for cloture. A 20 minute lobbying session on the floor of the Senate, followed by private meetings, led to the successful persuasion of Senator Murkowski to flip. Senator Heitkamp’s eventually voted yes for cloture, allowing the Senate to vote up or down on Jones’s nomination.
The confirmation of an ATF director has long been opposed by the gun lobby. Nominees from both Republican and Democrat Presidents have been opposed. Such opposition essentially crippled the very agency tasked with enforcing the gun laws that are already on the books.
The irony of such opposition is that, after Sandy Hook, the gun lobby and many of its strongest supporters in the Senate have stressed the importance of enforcing existing laws rather than creating new laws. By now it should not be too surprising that some of the very Senators who have been vocal about the need for stronger enforcement of the laws on the books opposed Jones’s confirmation yesterday as well.
Due in large part to the groundswell of support for gun violence prevention measures and the political sea change which now shows that gun violence prevention is the political upper ground, the NRA chose not to oppose the confirmation or to score any votes by Republican Senators this time.
For President Obama, Jones’s confirmation is one of the few victories achieved that might prevent gun violence since Sandy Hook.
Congress has still yet to advance any gun violence prevention laws in response to the tragedy. Let your Members of Congress know that you support mandatory background checks on all commercial gun sales and that you demand gun violence prevention legislation.