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White House pulls nomination of ATF chief amid pushback over gun-control advocacy

David Chipman, nominee for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee on May 26, 2021.
David Chipman, nominee for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee on May 26, 2021. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The White House withdrew ­David Chipman’s nomination to run the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on Thursday amid bipartisan pushback over his gun control advocacy.

President Biden nominated Chipman, who worked at ATF for more than two decades before joining the gun-control group led by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), in April as part of a larger effort to curb gun violence. But his nomination faced unified opposition from Republican senators as well as concerns from a handful of Senate Democrats from states friendly to gun rights.

“We knew this wouldn’t be easy — there’s only been one Senate-confirmed ATF Director in the Bureau’s history — but I have spent my entire career working to combat the scourge of gun violence, and I remain deeply committed to that work,” Biden said in a statement.

“Since taking office, my Administration has taken numerous steps to combat gun violence, and we’ll continue to use every tool at our disposal to fight gun violence and keep Americans safe.”

The president blamed Republicans for blocking Chipman’s nomination, saying they are using “gun crime as a political talking point instead of taking serious steps to address it.” But it was resistance from some in Biden’s own party that ultimately forced the White House to pull the nomination.

White House officials are trying to find another role in the administration for Chipman — who is now a senior adviser to the Giffords group — according to two people with knowledge of the matter who spoke of the condition of anonymity to describe the deliberations.

The Justice Department had offered a role to Chipman, but he plans to decline, according to a third person familiar with the matter.

Democrats say Chipman is the perfect candidate to run an agency conservatives hate

The collapse of Chipman’s nomination is yet another example of the intractable politics of gun policy on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have struggled to pass legislation or confirm nominees to deal with the issue.

The ATF position is central to any administration’s strategy for tackling gun violence, but the agency has had just one Senate-confirmed leader since the post became subject to Senate confirmation 15 years ago.

ATF is a federal agency focused on reducing gun violence by enforcing the law and prohibiting the sale of firearms to convicted felons and other dangerous individuals,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said in a statement. “The gun industry resents their work as it limits sales and holds them accountable for violations of the law. That is why the gun lobby is determined to leave the Director’s position vacant. David Chipman is the latest target of their concerted effort.”

But several Democratic senators had publicly and privately expressed concerns about Chipman, including Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Jon Tester (Mont.), along with Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine.

Chipman’s advocates and administration officials were particularly concerned about King, who faced vigorous lobbying against the nominee from sportsmen’s groups in his home state.

A spokesman for King declined to comment Thursday morning on Chipman’s pending withdrawal.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley ­(R-Iowa) issued a statement applauding Chipman’s withdrawal.

“Mr. Chipman’s long record as a partisan, anti-Second Amendment activist raised plenty of concerns about how he’d administer federal firearms laws,” Grassley said. “The employees of ATF and the American people deserve an ATF director who carries out the mission of the agency with respect for the Constitution and for all agency employees.” The evenly divided Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked over Chipman’s nomination in late June, and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) would have had to hold several procedural votes to discharge the nomination from the committee. Democrats appear never to have had the votes to do so.

Although Biden has generally been successful in getting his nominees through the Senate, he also had to withdraw his first choice to head the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, after senators complained about her sharply worded tweets about various senators.