Biden’s Pick to Lead ATF Appears Before Senate Panel
David Chipman made his case for running the agency during a high-stakes hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.,
Biden’s pick to lead A.T.F. faces fierce opposition at his confirmation hearing.
By Glenn Thrush
- May 26, 2021, 10:24 a.m. ET
David Chipman, President Biden’s pick to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, faced withering Republican criticism during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday over his history of scathing comments about gun ownership.
Mr. Chipman, a two-decade veteran of the A.T.F. who has advised gun control groups, was chosen in part because of his willingness to bluntly confront an industry that has handcuffed the agency, which enforces gun laws.
But his comments — including an interview last year in which he jokingly likened the frenzied buying of guns during the coronavirus pandemic to a zombie apocalypse — were the subject of repeated questions by Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Many see putting a committed gun control proponent like David Chipman in charge of A.T.F. is like putting a tobacco executive in charge of the Department of Health and Human Services, or antifa in charge of the Portland Police Department,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and the ranking member of the committee.
As the hearing got underway, news alerts of a fatal shooting in San Jose, Calif., began pinging on lawmakers’ phones. “It is not lost on me that there is another mass shooting,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota.
The National Rifle Association has mounted a coordinated campaign against Mr. Chipman’s nomination, citing his promises to regulate automatic weapons and his support of universal background checks.
The organization has effectively exercised veto power over the appointment of stable leadership at the A.T.F., blocking several potential directors, including a conservative police union official tapped by President Donald J. Trump. The gun lobby has also led a decades-long campaign to hobble the A.T.F. by fighting funding increases and efforts to modernize its paper-based system of tracking firearms.
Republicans said Mr. Chipman’s penchant for provocation made him an unacceptable choice, hoping to scuttle his nomination just as a history of inflammatory Twitter posts doomed the nomination of Neera Tanden, Mr. Biden’s first choice to run his budget office.
Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, grilled Mr. Chipman for saying in jest in an interview last year that some first-time gun buyers were preparing “for end times scenarios and zombie apocalypses.”
Mr. Chipman, who appeared to try to avoid a back-and-forth with Republicans, said those remarks had been “self-deprecating.” He also deflected questions about his advocacy of progressive policy by saying that he viewed himself as “a cop.”
A few minutes later, after Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, criticized him for calling for restrictions on AR-15-style rifles, Mr. Chipman thanked the senator for “offering me a Dr Pepper” during a private meeting the day before.
Mr. Biden chose Mr. Chipman after a lobbying campaign by gun safety organizations, led by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords. In recent years, Mr. Chipman has worked with groups run by Ms. Giffords and Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, who also pressed for his selection.
The White House was initially reluctant to nominate someone who would provoke such intense opposition, but Mr. Biden decided that he needed to take a chance after the mass killings in Atlanta and Boulder, White House officials said.
White House officials believe that Mr. Chipman has just enough votes — 50 to 52, by their estimate — to overcome near-unanimous opposition by Republicans.
Two critical Democrats, Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have told Democratic leaders that they are likely to vote for him, provided the hearings go well. Two Republicans, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, have not ruled out supporting him.