Tester Suggests Chipman May Not Get Confirmation Vote

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

There are a couple of interesting takeaways from the Washington Post’s latest reporting on Democrats’ struggles to find the votes to confirm gun control activist David Chipman as permanent director of the ATF, the agency where he served as an agent for more than two decades. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, for instance, told the Post that Chipman is “still not ready for a vote,” more than a month after the Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked on party lines over the nomination.

Perhaps the most interesting comment in the Washington Post story, however, comes from Montana Sen. Jon Tester, one of several red-state Democrats who’ve yet to publicly announce where they stand on confirming Chipman to the top slot at ATF.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) has also stressed for weeks that he is reviewing the nomination, and he hinted to reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday that it could be withdrawn.

“I’m still reviewing it, and I’m not even sure it’s going to come up,” Tester told reporters.

What would give Tester that idea, or is it wishful thinking on his part? After all, it’s not Chipman’s time at the ATF that’s the problem, but rather his years of advocacy and lobbying for groups like Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Giffords. In 2A-friendly territory like Montana, confirming Chipman won’t play well with voters, but if the nomination is pulled before a Senate vote is held, Tester can avoid having to publicly choose between his professed support for the Second Amendment and his fealty to the party he calls home.

The Post also claims that the Biden administration is “particularly concerned” about Maine’s Angus King; an independent who caucuses with Democrats, but who also represents a state strongly supportive of the Second Amendment. In recent years Maine’s lawmakers have approved Constitutional Carry legislation, while voters rejected a universal background check referendum in 2016.

King is facing pressure from influential sportsmen’s groups in Maine to oppose Chipman and has tersely declined to elaborate on his thinking when questioned by reporters.

“No, no comment,” King repeated Tuesday. “I’m not announcing anything.”

His fellow Maine senator, Republican Susan Collins, opposes Chipman, pointing to his past comments that Collins said “demean law-abiding gun owners” and saying the relationship between ATF, the gun industry and sportsmen’s groups would be frayed if Chipman led the agency.

Then there’s Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who appears to be trying to drum up support for Chipman in a state that’s not only embraced Constitutional Carry, but recently repealed sales tax on firearms and ammunition and is offering big tax breaks to firearms and ammunition manufacturers that relocate or establish facilities within West Virginia’s borders.

Chipman recently participated in a Zoom town hall hosted by Manchin that was virtually attended by West Virginia residents, with the conversation focused on gun rights, according to the White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose private meetings. The nominee has also met with the state’s Republican governor, Jim Justice, at Manchin’s request.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation recently reported that a survey of likely voters in West Virginia found that 2/3rds of respondents are opposed to Chipman’s nomination, and no amount of Zoom town halls is going to change that.

Is Manchin really trying to convince West Virginia voters that Chipman would be acceptable as ATF director, or is he trying to convince the White House that he’s a team player who’s doing everything he can to move the needle on Chipman in decidedly hostile territory? Manchin’s no political neophyte, so it seems more likely to me that this in an attempt to appease Biden and his anti-gun allies rather than sway West Virginians to support the nomination.

Regardless of Manchin’s motivation, the fact that the senator isn’t exactly trumpeting the virtual town hall or the meeting between Justice and Chipman tells me that the senator hasn’t moved the needle and Second Amendment supporters in the state remain firm in their opposition to the nomination.

Clearly Manchin, Tester, and King aren’t eager to embrace Chipman, but that doesn’t mean any of them have officially decided to oppose him. Gun owners in Maine, Montana, and West Virginia need to keep up their contacts with these senators (in a civil fashion, of course) to remind them of Chipman’s long hostility towards gun owners, his desire to regulate the most commonly-owned rifle in the country as if it’s a machine gun, and the eagerness of gun control activists to put one of their own in charge of the agency overseeing the firearms industry and enforcing our nation’s gun laws.

Sep 22, 2021 6:30 PM ET