After 7 Years, Senate Confirms ATF Director

After 7 Years, Senate Confirms ATF Director

By RealClearPolitics Staff - August 1, 2013

Earlier this year, the Senate blocked gun control legislation. But on Wednesday it mustered the votes to confirm the first approved director at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives since that agency was reorganized in 2006.

That may seem like a small Senate decision as lawmakers rush home for the August recess, but it was never a sure thing. In the wake of the December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and the Senate’s decision not to adopt expanded background checks and other gun measures backed by President Obama and senators of both parties, the National Rifle Association’s long-held objections to any confirmed ATF director were considered potent on Capitol Hill.

But the NRA decided late in the process to remain neutral about the president’s nomination of B. Todd Jones, who was appointed by Obama in June 2009 to serve as the U.S. attorney for the District of Minnesota before also being named in September 2011 to a second role as acting ATF director.

On Wednesday night, after a squeaker procedural vote to break a filibuster, the Senate confirmed Jones by a vote of 53-42 to lead the bureau, which is a Justice Department law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over illegal use and trafficking of firearms, among other responsibilities.

In a statement, the president called Jones “a tough and tested law-enforcement professional with decades of experience,” and said his confirmation was “long overdue.”

“For nearly seven years, Senate Republicans had refused to confirm an ATF director -- not because they thought the nominees weren't qualified, but because they put politics ahead of the agency's law enforcement mission,” Obama said.

“I applaud Senator [Harry] Reid, Senator [Patrick] Leahy, Senator [Amy] Klobuchar, and the bipartisan group of senators who broke through that gridlock to give Todd Jones the up or down vote he deserved. But while Todd’s confirmation will help ATF apply the tools it needs to protect our communities from dangerous criminals and reduce gun violence, we can't stop there,” the president continued. “I will continue to stand with the majority of Americans who support common-sense reforms to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of criminals. And I will continue to do everything in my power to keep our children and our communities safe.”

Jones, who also served as U.S. attorney during the Clinton administration, was ensnared in the Justice Department’s controversial “Fast and Furious” program, which was conceived as a gun-running sting across the border into Mexico. ATF ran the operation, which failed to track more than 2,000 firearms, including a weapon used in December 2010 in the fatal shooting of U.S. Border Control Agent Brian Terry.

Attorney General Eric Holder later accused congressional Republicans of politicizing the failed operation, which was examined by an independent investigator and congressional committees after ATF whistleblowers came forward. The inspector general report found no evidence that Holder and other higher-ups in the department knew of the operation in Arizona.

The NRA and congressional Republicans criticized Jones in 2012 for what they called whistleblower intimidation at ATF.

RealClearPolitics Staff

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