How Chipman Could Be Confirmed Without Manchin's Support

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

I’ve been thinking about this for the past couple of days, but I didn’t say anything publicly about my theory until I was on my buddy Mark Walter’s Armed American Radio on Friday afternoon. Joe Biden’s nominee to head up the ATF is going to need just 51 votes in the Senate to get confirmed, but for the moment, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin has been mum on whether or not he plans on voting “aye” when David Chipman’s nomination reaches the Senate floor.

Without Manchin’s support, Democrats would have to find at least one Republican senator to go along with the nomination in order for the professional gun control activist to be confirmed as head of the agency responsible for enforcing the nation’s gun regulations. There’ve been a few names floated as possibilities; Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Utah’s Mitt Romney, and Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey.

While it’s possible that any of those senators could cross the aisle and join their Democratic colleagues, I think it’s less likely that Collins, Murkowski, and Romney would do so. Each of those senators represents states with strong Second Amendment protections and active 2A organizations, and in fact Maine, Alaska, and Utah are all Constitutional Carry states. Alaska governor Mike Dunleavy has declared that the state is a Second Amendment Sanctuary, and Utah lawmakers have done the same, albeit with a resolution instead of actual legislation. Bucking gun owners and backing Chipman would provide some genuine headaches for Collins, Murkowski, and Romney. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Pat Toomey.

Toomey has already announced he’s not running for re-election next year, so he could decide that comity and bipartisanship is more important than keeping a gun grabber like Chipman out of the top job at the ATF without worrying about what Pennsylvania voters think.

What’s more, Toomey has been trying without success for several years now to get a bill to expand background checks through the Senate, and his chief partner in that effort is none other than Joe Manchin.

Manchin represents one of the most 2A-supportive states in the nation, and he has shown no signs that he plans on stepping down when his current term expires in 2024. I don’t think Manchin wants to do anything that will allow his Republican challenger to portray him as a tool of the gun control lobby, but what if he could find a way to vote against Chipman and not be the deciding vote on the nomination?

If Joe Manchin went to his old pal Pat Toomey and suggested that Toomey vote yes on Chipman so that Manchin could vote no and still have Chipman confirmed, would Toomey do it? My fear is that that Toomey would be happy to support his buddy and provide him with some political cover on the Chipman vote.

So far Toomey hasn’t said anything publicly about whether or not he plans on supporting Chipman, and at 59-years of age, Toomey is young enough to continue his political career if he wants to, though voting to confirm a committed gun control activist as head of the ATF would almost certainly derail any chances of the GOP selecting him as a gubernatorial candidate in 2026. There are risks that would come with a vote to confirm Chipman, in other words, but it’s less risky for a retiring politician like Toomey than a red-state Democrat like Joe Manchin.

I’ve been encouraging West Virginia gun owners to flood Joe Manchin’s office with phone calls and emails urging him to reject David Chipman’s nomination, but Pennsylvania gun owners should be doing the same with Pat Toomey. Whether or not he’ll listen is an open question, but if gun owners are going to derail Chipman’s confirmation, I have a sneaking suspicion that Joe Manchin might not be the biggest challenge we face.