President Joe Biden’s pick to head the ATF is facing new uncertainty as Congress returns from recess.
ATF director nominee David Chipman received a tie vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee shortly before Congress went on recess. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) could discharge Chipman to the floor for a full vote, but multiple sources on Capitol Hill said he is unlikely to do so this week as senators get back to work. Senators Maggie Hassan (D., N.H.), Angus King (I., Maine), Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), and Jon Tester (D., Mont.) remain on the fence.
“They don’t currently have the votes,” a Senate staffer with knowledge of the situation told The Reload. “Manchin, King, Hassan, and Tester. They’re all terrified of this vote. So, there are no current plans to bring him up.”
A second staffer from another Republican office agreed the vote is unlikely to happen this week or anytime before Schumer knows he has the 50 votes necessary to confirm Chipman.
“I’m hearing that some of the Dems aren’t thrilled about him,” the staffer said. “[Schumer] won’t move without the votes unless he’s foolish.”
Hassan, King, and Manchin did not respond to requests for comment. Senator Tester’s office said he has yet to make up his mind on Chipman. Roy Loewenstein, a Tester spokesman, told The Reload the senator’s position has yet to change.
“As a proud gun owner, Senator Tester believes ATF needs a strong leader to support the agency’s law enforcement mission,” he said. “Senator Tester will continue to review David Chipman’s record and testimony to ensure he will support our brave law enforcement officers and respect Montanans’ Second Amendment rights.”
The office of Pat Toomey, one of the few Republican senators yet to publicly announce opposition to Chipman, said he is close to making a decision.
“Senator Toomey is troubled by aspects of Mr. Chipman’s record but has yet to make a final decision regarding his nomination to lead the ATF,” Steve Kelly, a Toomey spokesman, told The Reload. “I expect he will make a final decision sometime soon.”
The gun industry’s trade group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), has vehemently opposed Chipman’s nomination since it was announced. It took the unprecedented step of buying ad time in the home TV markets of some undecided senators in order to resit the former ATF agent and current gun-control activist’s appointment. NSSF spokesman Mark Oliva said he also doesn’t believe Chipman has the votes to pass.
“If Minority Leader Schumer is confident he has the votes to confirm, then, of course, he’s going to move and move quickly,” he said. “I don’t anticipate it’s gonna be this week. There were rumors early yesterday but those quickly went away. I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”
The first staffer, who requested anonymity to speak freely about the situation, said the delay doesn’t mean Chipman is defeated. The staffer doesn’t expect the Democrats who say they have doubts to actually break with the party if push comes to shove.
“These guys all vote so lockstep, I just don’t believe they’ll actually block him,” the staffer said. “The [moderate senators] need time to get there. So, Schumer will give them time and give time for Dem activists to apply pressure.”
Oliva agreed the delay doesn’t equal victory but said NSSF has no plans of backing down. He said the group will continue to put pressure on Manchin, King, Tester, Hassan, and Toomey to oppose Chipman.
“That’s why our campaign is going to continue,” Oliva said. “Our commercial’s still running in West Virginia and Maine throughout the rest of this week.”