Senate confirms first ATF director in nearly a decade

Senate confirms first ATF director in nearly a decade

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed President Biden’s nominee to run the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives despite opposition from Republicans over his support for banning military-style rifles.

The vote made Steven Dettelbach, a former federal prosecutor, the first ATF director to win confirmation since 2013.

Senators voted 48-46 to confirm the nomination.

Mr. Dettelbach is the second person nominated by Mr. Biden to run the ATF. The president withdrew the nomination of David Chipman in September 2021 after Mr. Chipman failed to win the backing of key senators, including Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats. 

During his confirmation hearing, Mr. Dettelbach pledged to steer clear of politics if confirmed to lead the ATF.

“I worked under Republican administrations, and I worked under Democratic administrations as a federal prosecutor and I have lived that credo and I vow to continue to do it because people need to have confidence that people in law enforcement’s only agenda is to enforce the law,” Mr. Dettlebach said. 

Republicans opposed the nomination, citing Mr. Dettelbach’s statements made in 2018 calling for a ban of military-style rifles or “assault weapons” when he ran unsuccessfully for attorney general in Ohio. 

Republicans pressed Mr. Dettelbach during his confirmation hearing to define an assault weapon. Mr. Dettelbach had difficulty answering and said he was unfamiliar with the definition used in the 1994 federal ban on assault weapons that has now expired. 

Senate lawmakers haven’t been able to confirm an ATF director in almost ten years due partly to gridlock over gun control issues. 

The ATF has operated under a string of acting directors since the last confirmed director, B. Todd Jones, left the agency in 2015. 

Democrats urged the Senate to confirm Mr. Dettelbach, arguing the ATF needs permanent leadership as the nation combats a string of mass shootings and an overall surge in gun violence.

“You come here at a moment of extraordinary anguish, anxiety, and anger in this country,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said. “And I believe that we must move forward with gun violence prevention reforms that will make our laws more effective and give you more tools that you need in saving communities and individual lives.”

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