Biden’s Pick to Lead ATF to Appear Before Senators

David Chipman is making his case for running the agency during a high-stakes hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.,

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Biden’s pick to head A.T.F. faces fierce opposition at his confirmation hearing.

David Chipman spoke at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on assault weapons in 2019.
David Chipman spoke at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on assault weapons in 2019.Credit…Andrew Harnik/Associated Press
  • May 26, 2021, 10:24 a.m. ET

David Chipman, President Biden’s lightning-rod nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, appeared on Wednesday in front of a Senate panel to make his case for running the agency during a high-stakes confirmation hearing.

The gun lobby, along with its Republican allies in Congress, is mounting a coordinated campaign to sink his nomination, citing his promises to regulate automatic weapons and his support of universal background checks.

Mr. Chipman, a two-decade veteran of the A.T.F. who has served as an adviser to major gun control groups, is in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he faces fierce opposition.

Mr. Biden’s selection of Mr. Chipman came after an intense lobbying campaign by gun safety organizations, led by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords. In recent years, he has worked with groups run by Ms. Giffords and Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City.

The White House was initially reluctant to select a nominee who would provoke such intense opposition, but Mr. Biden decided he needed to take a chance after the mass killings in Atlanta and Boulder earlier this year, White House officials said.

White House officials believe that Mr. Chipman has just enough votes — 50 to 52 in their estimate — to overcome near-unanimous opposition by Republicans.

Two critical Democratic swing votes, Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have told Democratic leaders they are likely to support his nomination, provided the hearings go well. Two Republicans, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, have not ruled out supporting him.

The National Rifle Association had led a decades-long campaign to hobble the A.T.F., which is responsible for enforcing the nation’s gun laws and inspecting gun dealers, drastically reducing the bureau’s effectiveness by fighting funding increases and scuttling efforts to modernize its paper-based system of tracking firearms.

The gun lobby has effectively exercised veto power over the appointment of stable permanent leadership at the bureau, blocking several would-be A.T.F. directors, including a conservative police union official tapped for the post by former President Donald J. Trump.

The N.R.A. spent $2 million on an anti-Chipman ad campaign following his nomination, and pro-gun groups have kept up a drumbeat of criticism, focusing on his presence, as a young agent, at the bloody 1993 siege of a Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.

On Tuesday, 20 Republican state attorneys general sent a letter to the committee accusing Mr. Chipman of being “hostile to our rights and way of life,” and calling for lawmakers to reject his nomination.

On Wednesday, several major policing organizations expressed support for his nomination in the hours leading up to the hearing, in a series of endorsement letters from the National Black Police Association, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association, and Women in Federal Law Enforcement.

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit group that analyzes data for law enforcement agencies, wrote that Mr. Chipman has “enormous credibility” that would help turn the A.T.F. around.

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