The U.S. Senate confirmed B. Todd Jones as the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, giving the law enforcement agency its first permanent director in seven years.
The Senate voted yesterday to confirm Jones, who has been sharing time between serving as the agency’s acting director and as the U.S. attorney for Minnesota, 53-42.
The confirmation marks a win for President Barack Obama, who has pushed for lawmakers to approve Jones as part of a broad effort to crack down on gun violence. Confirmation of the agency’s director has been stymied since 2006 by political fights over government oversight of gun owners, and Obama in a statement called the vote “welcome and overdue.”
“For nearly seven years, Senate Republicans had refused to confirm an ATF director,” the president said. “Not because they thought the nominees weren’t qualified, but because they put politics ahead of the agency’s law enforcement mission.”
Obama’s proposals, laid out earlier this year after the Dec. 14 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 20 children and six adults, have mostly stalled in Congress due to opposition from gun-rights groups. The Senate confirmation of Jones was included in Obama’s package of priorities in January.
Jones, 56, who didn’t receive any Republican support during committee consideration of his nomination, has faced scrutiny of his record by Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican.
Grassley, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committtee, said investigations and complaints raised in law enforcement circles related to Jones’s management style required lawmakers to spend more time on the nomination.
“I do not believe that we should simply rubber stamp this nomination and sweep the alarming allegations under the rug,” Grassley said.
In the end, with a push from Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary panel, the Jones nomination cleared the committee and was brought to the floor.
“It has been held hostage by partisan politics for too long at the expense of public safety,” Leahy said yesterday.
Under Senate rules, six Republicans voted to proceed to the nomination vote on Jones, forcing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to leave the procedural vote open for more than five hours to secure the required 60 votes.
The chamber was waiting for Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat, to return to Washington from her home. One Republican, Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, joined Democrats in voting to confirm Jones.
Jones has led the agency since 2011 in an acting capacity as it has attempted to recover from a botched federal gun operation known as Fast and Furious that led to resignations, demotions and detailed inquiries. During his tenure atop the ATF, it has played a leading role in the investigations of the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing and the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion.
“He literally has never turned down a tough assignment,” Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, said yesterday in Senate debate before the vote. “Todd Jones has an impressive background that makes him well prepared to lead the ATF.”
Jones, in his June confirmation hearing, said when he started his job he “discovered an agency in distress.”
“There had been a lack of strong, visionary leadership and of accountability and attention to detail,” Jones, who served in the U.S. Marines, told lawmakers.
The gun operation, known as Fast and Furious, allowed individuals purchasing guns believed to be for Mexican drug cartels to “walk” with the guns in an effort to track their eventual location. The agency ended up losing more than 2,000 firearms, including weapons that were found at the scene of the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
“He was able to come in after that and clean up the agency and make some very tough decisions,” Klobuchar said.