Obama’s ATF nominee is sent to Senate floor for final vote

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to send President Obama’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to the Senate floor for a final vote.

If B. Todd Jones is confirmed, it would be the first time in seven years that the agency that regulates firearms and investigates gun and explosives crimes has had a permanent director.

The 10 to 8 party-line vote by the Senate panel came after a months-long debate over the nomination of Jones, the U.S. attorney for Minnesota and the ATF’s acting part-time director

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) continued to strongly oppose Jones’s nomination Thursday, citing an open complaint against him for alleged whistleblower retaliation. The case is before the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

“We don’t know the results of that investigation,” Grassley said in a long opening statement before the vote. “I do not believe we should simply rubber-stamp this nomination and sweep the alarming allegations under the rug.”

But committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) cited Jones’s qualifications and the many letters from law enforcement officials in support of him.

“I am aware that there are some on your side who don’t want any ATF director,” Leahy said to Grassley. “No matter who we had, you would have complaints.”

Jones’s nomination was part of a package of gun initiatives proposed by Obama after the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. The committee vote was applauded by Americans for Responsible Solutions, the organization created by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and her husband, Mark Kelly, that is trying to revive the stalled legislative debate over stricter gun regulations.

“The full Senate will have the chance to vote for the first time in seven years on a full-time leader for one of our nation’s key law enforcement agencies tasked with stopping gun trafficking,” said Pia Carusone, the advocacy group’s executive director. “Anyone who says they support enforcement of our existing gun laws should ensure we have the leadership in place to do so.”

Sari Horwitz covers the Justice Department and criminal justice issues nationwide for The Washington Post, where she has been a reporter for 30 years. Follow her @SariHorwitz.
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