WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Thursday withdrew David Chipman as his nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives after Chipman's advocacy for gun control led to bipartisan 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 ATF agent of 25 years, Chipman drew sharp criticism from Republicans, who argued his work with gun control groups Everytown and Giffords, named after former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, disqualifies him from the position that holds law enforcement power over the nation’s gun manufacturers, importers and sellers.
His nomination wasn't doomed by just Republicans. It hinged on the decision of Sen. 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, R-Ky., 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 loss, adding to failures to pass gun control measures in Congress even as gun crime is on the rise.
Igor Volsky, 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, who thanked Chipman for his work, said the White House knew his confirmation "wouldn't be easy," noting that there's been only 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 saying 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.
As a senior policy adviser at Giffords, Chipman advocated for legislation to make it easier for the ATF to hold gun dealers accountable. During his Senate confirmation hearings in May, he told lawmakers he supports a ban on AR-15 rifles like the one backed by Biden.
The ATF, which falls under the Justice Department, has been without a confirmed director for the past six years and was led only briefly by a confirmed director under President Barack 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 director but declined to provide a timeline.
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.
Since his inauguration, Biden has taken executive actions aimed at gun control such as closing a regulatory loophole that allowed so-called ghost guns, which lack serial numbers, to be purchased without a background check.
He's been unable to gain Republican support in Congress to pass sweeping gun control legislation to reinstate a weapons ban or close loopholes in gun background checks.
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison