No, what got Chipman into trouble in his nomination to run the agency in charge of enforcing federal gun laws and stopping illegal gun trafficking is that Chipman was seen as insufficiently pro-gun.
The agency’s mission is to investigate “armed violent offenders and career criminals, narcotics traffickers, narco-terrorists, violent gangs, and domestic and international arms traffickers.” And being insufficiently pro-gun is a disqualification?
Consider that for a moment. What if I expressed reservations about the nominee for attorney general because he is anti-crime and that could lead him to pursue some kind of weird anti-crime agenda at the Department of Justice? Or if I said the next administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency had better not be too opposed to pollution?
That might seem crazy, but it’s not that far off from how Republican presidents actually go about making many of their Cabinet and sub-Cabinet choices. Yet when a Democratic president takes office, he winds up constrained by conservative ideas about what government can and should do.
Chipman is a former ATF official who spent 25 years at the agency; there wasn’t any suggestion that he was unqualified. The problem was that he had acted as an advisor to Giffords, the organization founded by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, which advocates for stricter gun laws.
This led to him being labeled by Republicans as an extremist who might take his crazy anti-gun ideas to ATF. But what killed his nomination in the end was a lack of support from conservative Democrats in the Senate, including Angus King (I-Me.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and of course, Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). While they’ve expressed vague concerns about his nomination, none seems to have said anything specific — and they’ve been targeted by lobbying from pro-gun groups in their states to reject Chipman’s nomination.
There’s another part of the story that relates specifically to this agency. The ATF director used to be just appointed by the president, but in 2006, a provision was attached to a larger piece of legislation requiring the director to be confirmed. Since then, gun-rights groups, with the help of Senate Republicans, have fought against the confirmation of every nominee for ATF director. Their theory — and it’s a correct one — is that without a confirmed director, the agency will have a harder time enforcing gun laws.
In other words, King, Tester and Manchin have decided to join in on a long-standing GOP/gun industry campaign to sabotage ATF.
This is hardly the only federal agency Republicans have tried to undermine — sometimes from without and sometimes from within. That’s how Republican presidents often accomplish their goal, by appointing people to lead departments whose mission they despise.
This dates back before Donald Trump, but he took it to an extreme. In some cases, Trump appointed agency heads who were comically unqualified to run them, such as Ben Carson, who had never worked a day in his life on housing policy but became secretary of housing and urban development.
And other Trump nominees were passionately opposed to the mission of the agencies they were tasked to lead.
There was Betsy DeVos, the billionaire heiress Trump chose as secretary of education precisely because of her devotion to the destruction of public education. Trump’s first nominee to head the Department of Labor, fast food executive Andrew Puzder, was an ardent opponent of the minimum wage and workers’ rights — which that department is supposed to protect (he withdrew amid allegations of domestic abuse).
To lead the EPA, Trump nominated Scott Pruitt, who as attorney general in Oklahoma had made a national reputation suing the federal government to stop enforcement of environmental regulations. When Pruitt resigned amid scandals, he was replaced by Andrew Wheeler, an actual coal lobbyist, to run America’s environmental regulations.
It was the equivalent of a Democratic president appointing an antiwar activist from Code Pink to be secretary of defense. Which of course Democratic presidents never do.
The demise of Chipman’s nomination might lead you to say, “Well, that’s just politics” — whenever the opposition party has a chance to torpedo a nomination, they’ll take it. Which is true.
But Democrats don’t have to help Republicans do this. Especially when their real goal is to make sure laws aren’t enforced and government doesn’t work.
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