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Why Did Two Republicans Just Save Biden’s ATF Nominee?

Greg Nash/Pool via AP

Yet again, Republican members of the U.S. Senate pitched in to deliver a victory for President Joe Biden and Democrats on Tuesday by helping their across-the-aisle colleagues confirm the president's pick for ATF director.


The U.S. Senate is more of a mess than usual this week as Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is out with COVID, as is Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). Sen. Patrick Leahy is still recovering from a fall that necessitated a hip replacement for the 82-year old Democrat from Vermont. The three sidelined Democrats showed how precarious the majority for Biden's party has become. 

The tight math meant that the planned confirmation vote for Biden's second pick to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Steve Dettelbach — was in jeopardy. Reliably, Republicans stepped up to hand Joe Biden a victory and confirm his nominee — the first Senate-approved ATF director in years. 

The final vote came down 48-46, with two Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Rob Portman of Ohio — voting with all the Democrats present to confirm Dettelbach as the ATF's director.


Previously, Dettelbach's confirmation was deadlocked by a tied party-line vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee that required extra steps from Schumer to move the nomination along via discharge petition, which passed the full senate with support from Sens. Portman and Collins to achieve the simple majority needed to rescue a nominee who is not reported favorably — that is with a majority-supporting vote — from the Judiciary Committee.

Both Sens. Collins and Portman also voted with Democrats to advance Dettelbach's nomination to a final vote earlier on Tuesday as well. 

Without the support from those two Republicans, Biden's ATF nominee might not have been rescued from the unfavorable Judiciary Committee vote, not voted on this week, or perhaps never confirmed at all. 

Biden previously called his ATF nominee "immensely qualified" for the job, but there were concerns from Republicans over Dettelbach's support for restrictions on Second Amendment freedoms. The NRA slammed Biden's nominee, noting he "endorsed gun bans, restrictions on lawful firearm transfers, and further expansion of prohibitions on who can lawfully possess a firearm. In short, it’s unclear what gun control measures Dettelbach doesn’t support," the NRA noted.


What's more, Gun Owners of America pointed out that Dettelbach has admitted to never owning a firearm while being considered to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

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