Senate confirms ATF nominee Jones

July 31, 2013

Todd Jones (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

For the first time in seven years, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has a confirmed leader. But it first had to wait for Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) to get back to Washington.

A cloture vote on Jones's nomination Wednesday afternoon left Democrats one vote short of preventing a filibuster -- and the Senate waiting for Heitkamp to return from North Dakota. Around 7 p.m. eastern time, she arrived and cast the 60th vote -- the number required to move forward with an up-or-down vote on Jones's nomination.

Shortly thereafter, the Senate confirmed Jones by a vote of 53-42.

“This position hasn’t had a director for seven years and it’s way past time that the job is finally filled," Heitkamp said in a statement. "Mr. Jones has strong credentials."

Six Republicans voted for cloture: Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

Jones has faced heavy criticism from Republican senators, particularly Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who has raised questions about Jones’s handling of cases as a U.S. Attorney in Minnesota and his treatment of whistleblowers.

Grassley hasd also sought more information about the "Fast & Furious" program. While that scandal preceded Jones's tenure, he has been dealing with the fallout from the botched sting operation. On the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Grassley is the ranking Republican member, Jones came through on a party-line vote.

Murkowski switched her vote after an extended period of discussion on the floor of the Senate with a bipartisan group of Senate Judiciary Committee members who discussed her concerns over his tenure in Minnesota. More than an hour after the vote began, she switched from no to yes, giving Jones 59 of the 60 votes he needed.

But Democrats then had to wait for Heitkamp, who had fallen ill while at home and had to stay there longer than planned, to cast the decisive vote.

Jones was nominated by President Obama in January, shortly after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. But he has been acting director since 2011.

The ATF has not had a permanent director since the position became subject to Senate confirmation in 2006, largely because of delays from senators protective of gun rights. The National Rifle Association chose to stay neutral on Jones's nomination.

“We haven’t seen anything that concerns us from the standpoint of gun issues,” NRA lobbyist Jim Baker told the Associated Press.

While Jones was not part of a bipartisan deal on filibusters that helped moved several blocked nominees, the momentum from that agreement appears to have helped him.

This item originally posted at 4:31 p.m. It has been updated.

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