An indefinite vacancy atop the ATF

Updated
U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones, President Obama's choice to lead the ATF
U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones, President Obama's choice to lead the ATF
Associated Press

In January, President Obama unveiled a fairly detailed policy agenda on preventing gun violence, featuring 23 executive actions, some of which were quite mundane. For example, the president nominated a director for the ATF, which seems like a no-brainer.

As we talked about in February, Republicans really shouldn’t have a problem with this. After all, GOP officials who routinely say federal officials should simply enforce the gun laws already on the books – as opposed to approving new gun laws – and if the focus is going to be on enforcement, it makes sense to approve a staff for the government agency responsible for, you know, enforcement.

So, President Obama nominated U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones to lead the agency, though the odds of his confirmation are poor.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has been without a permanent director since 2006. Based on a Senate hearing today, the agency is going to have to keep waiting.

Sen. Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, sparred with Democrats during the nomination hearing for B. Todd Jones over the panel’s procedures for the consideration of his nomination, as well as Jones’s record at the Justice Department and as acting head of the ATF.

That last point is of particular interest – Jones is already serving as the acting ATF director, though he splits his time with the agency, also serving as a U.S. Attorney. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) touted the success Jones has had reforming the ATF and getting the agency back on track after the “Fast and Furious” controversy. The nominee has also received extensive support from the law enforcement community.

But for Senate Republicans none of this is likely to make a difference.

In this case, GOP senators even have an excuse to hold up the nomination.

Jones is under investigation for allegations that he retaliated against a whistle-blower while serving as U.S. Attorney for Minnesota. Details of the investigation are sparse because the probe is ongoing.

The ATF nominee told the senators he has never taken any adverse actions against an employee and said he was surprised by the allegations.

I can’t speak to the veracity of the allegations, but in all likelihood, Jones would draw Republican opposition whether the charges existed or not – NRA lobbying has successfully prevented anyone from being confirmed to head the ATF for the last seven years, and if the whistleblower matter weren’t available, Senate Republicans would no doubt come up with some other pretense.

ATF

An indefinite vacancy atop the ATF

Updated