WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Thursday withdrew David Chipman as his pick to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives after Chipman’s support for gun control led to resistance in the Senate.
The White House confirmed the move after USA TODAY and other media outlets reported the decision earlier in the day.
Biden said Chipman would have made “an exemplary” director of the ATF who would have “redoubled its efforts to crack down on illegal firearms traffickers and help keep our communities safe from gun violence.”
“Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress have made clear that they intend to use gun crime as a political talking point instead of taking serious steps to address it,” Biden said in a statement.
A former agent with the ATF, Chipman drew sharp criticism from Republicans, who argued his work with gun control groups Everytown and Giffords, led by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, disqualifies him from the position that holds law enforcement power over the nation’s gun manufacturers, importers, and sellers.
His nomination hinged on the decision of Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine, who caucuses with Democrats. Without King’s support, the White House was unable to reach 50 votes in the evenly divided Senate for his confirmation.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell celebrated Chipman’s withdrawal. “Absurd that a vocal opponent of Americans’ constitutional rights was ever picked to run ATF,” McConnell said in a tweet. “This is a win for the Second Amendment and law-abiding American citizens.”
For gun control advocates, it was another clear loss, adding to failures to pass gun control measures in Congress even as gun crime is on the rise.
Igor Volsky, the founder and executive director of Guns Down America, called the move “a significant setback for the Biden administration’s efforts to fight rising gun violence and illicit firearm trafficking.”
“This is a boon for gun manufacturers that profit from the weak enforcement of existing gun laws and have spent millions maligning this dedicated public servant,” Volsky said. He called on Biden to create an office in the White House devoted to gun violence.
Biden said the White House knew the confirmation of Chipman “wouldn’t be easy,” noting that 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,” the president said.
Chipman issued a statement after the withdrawal that he remains committed “to addressing the national crisis of violent crime and domestic terrorism that threatens the promise of our nation’s public safety.”
“I knew this confirmation process would be difficult, and while ultimately we weren’t successful, it remains essential that ATF is led by a confirmed director who is accountable to the public,” he wrote.
The ATF has been without a confirmed director for the last six years, and was led only briefly by a confirmed director under President Obama.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the administration is in discussions with Chipman about “what other role might be appropriate for him in the federal government.” She said the administration would seek to confirm a new director.
Chipman, who was nominated by Biden in April, was the subject of other attacks, ranging from complaints that he made discriminatory comments about Black agents during his tenure to fears that he would try to radically limit Second Amendment rights.
Chipman’s supporters launched a final full-court press on King with private meetings at the end of a bruising nomination, which featured millions spent in lobbying on TV, radio and the internet, alongside disinformation about the former agent and his family.
The withdrawal will make it more difficult for the Biden administration to achieve its goal of reducing gun violence, said Peter Ambler, Giffords’ executive director.
“The gun lobby’s extremism, corruption, and dishonesty are well known to regular Americans, so it’s shocking that Senators would not only accept the self-interested arguments of industry groups like the [National Shooting Sports Foundation] and the [National Rifle Association], but go so far as to parrot their lies,” Ambler said. “This is a shameful day. We are less safe as a result of the Senate’s failure to confirm David Chipman.”
The withdrawal of Chipman marks the second time one of Biden’s nominations collapsed. Neera Tanden, his pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget, withdrew herself from consideration in March after facing a backlash for targeting Republicans on Twitter.