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White House pulling nomination of ATF chief amid pushback over gun-control advocacy

The White House is planning to withdraw David Chipman’s nomination to run the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives this week amid bipartisan pushback over his gun control advocacy, according to two people with knowledge of the decision. President Biden nominated Chipman, who worked at ATF for more than two decades before joining the gun control group led by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), in April as part of a larger effort to curb gun violence. But his nomination faced unified opposition from Republican senators as well as concerns from a handful of Senate Democrats from states friendly to gun rights.

The White House declined to comment. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak freely about Chipman, who currently is a senior adviser to the Giffords gun control group. White House officials are trying to find another role in the administration for Chipman, said the people familiar with the matter. The Justice Department had offered a role to Chipman, but he plans to decline, according to a third person familiar with the matter. Democrats say Chipman is the perfect candidate to run an agency conservatives hate The collapse of Chipman’s nomination is yet another example of the intractable politics of gun policy on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have struggled to pass legislation or confirm nominees to deal with the issue.

The ATF position is central to any administration’s strategy for tackling gun violence, but the agency has had just one Senate-confirmed leader since the post became subject to Senate confirmation 15 years ago.

Several Democratic senators had publicly and privately expressed concerns about Chipman, including Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Jon Tester (Mont.), along with Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine. Chipman’s advocates and administration officials were particularly concerned about King, who faced vigorous lobbying against the nominee from sportsmen’s groups in his home state. A spokesman for King declined to comment Thursday morning on Chipman’s pending withdrawal.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) issued a statement applauding Chipman’s withdrawal. “Mr. Chipman’s long record as a partisan, anti-Second Amendment activist raised plenty of concerns about how he’d administer federal firearms laws,” Grassley said. “The employees of the ATF and the American people deserve an ATF director who carries out the mission of the agency with respect for the Constitution and for all agency employees.” Although Biden has generally been successful in getting his nominees through the Senate, he also had to withdraw his first choice to head the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, after senators complained about her sharply worded tweets about various senators.

The evenly divided Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked over Chipman’s nomination in late June, and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) would have had to hold several procedural votes to discharge the nomination from the committee. Democrats appear never to have had the votes to do so.