Eric Holder, Loretta Lynch endorse Biden's ATF nominee

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The push to confirm anti-gun politician and former U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach as permanent director of the ATF is in full effect, though I doubt that the latest round of endorsements is going to have much of an impact on the ultimate outcome of his nomination. Are any fence-sitters or opponents of Dettelbach really going to be swayed by learning that the man in charge of the Department of Justice during the ATF’s gunwalking scheme known as Operation Fast and Furious believes Dettelbach is the right man for the job?

More than 140 former Justice Department officials, including two past attorneys general, are throwing their support behind President Joe Biden’s nominee to run the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The ex-officials, who worked for both Democratic and Republican presidents, are urging congressional leaders to quickly confirm Steve Dettelbach to the post. Their endorsement comes on the heels of support from several law enforcement organizations, including the Major County Sheriffs of America.

The letter — to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and the panel’s top Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa — is signed by Holder and Lynch, along with several other prominent former Justice Department officials. Those others include former deputy attorneys general Rod Rosenstein, Sally Yates and James Cole, along with former Sen. Doug Jones.

The ex-officials emphasized Dettelbach’s work as a career prosecutor who earned votes from both Democrats and Republicans for his confirmation as U.S. attorney. The signers said he has “conducted himself with the highest level of integrity and character.”

“Throughout his exceptional career, Steve has also been recognized for being inclusive and even-handed in his approach to law enforcement,” the letter states. “He also understands that there can be no room for partisanship or divisiveness among those who are vested with the sacred mission of fighting crime and defending the rule of law.”

Well, if a noted non-partisan like Eric Holder says Dettelbach isn’t going to be divisive, it must be true, right?

The problem with Dettelbach isn’t the time he spent as a U.S. Attorney. It’s the fact that as a candidate for Attorney General in Ohio in 2018, Dettelbach made it clear that there’s no difference between his views on gun control (and gun owners) and David Chipman’s. Both are in favor of all kinds of new gun control laws aimed at law-abiding Americans, including banning the most commonly-sold rifle in the country and creating a backdoor gun registry through a universal background check law. The only real difference between the two men is that Chipman got (and still gets) paychecks from a gun control group, while Dettelbach got endorsements.

But if Chipman’s anti-gun advocacy was enough to scuttle his nomination, the same should be true for Dettelbach. I’m not convinced that’s going to be the case, but if a recent report by POLITICO is true, Dettelbach has not yet secured the support of several key Democrats.

The agency needs a head with the permanence of Senate approval to have the best chance at implementing Biden’s guns agenda. With little hope for bipartisan compromise on the issue in a 50-50 Senate, particularly as the midterm elections approach, Democrats are increasingly imploring the White House to take unilateral action on gun control on a smaller scale than Congress has envisioned in previous attempts at a legislative deal.

But a number of key Senate Democratic caucus members are noncommittal on Dettelbach, who supported an assault weapons ban and universal background checks during his failed bid for attorney general of Ohio in 2018. That includes those who privately opposed or didn’t backBiden’s last nominee: Sens. Angus King (I-Maine), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). All three are set to speak or meet with Dettelbach in the coming weeks, critical conversations that will determine his fate on the Senate floor.

… Manchin confirmed he had a “problem” with Chipman’s nomination and said of the ATF job: “Some people inside the system that I heard were really good. But you know, you have to get someone who understands the people on the front line, what we are asking ATF members to do.”

King said he’s reviewing Dettelbach’s record, and Tester plans to press the nominee on his opposition to assault weapons and whether that extends to other firearms.

“He’s opposed to assault weapons, and I’m going to ask him: How did he formulate that idea, why? Does it have any impact on other guns? Are there other things we need to know about him that he would be opposed to?” Tester said.

I suspect that some of this is political theater, especially on the part of Jon Tester, but as I said, if King and Machin (and supposedly Tester as well) were opposed to Chipman’s nomination, there’s no reason why they should give Dettelbach the nod instead. Joe Biden could have nominated a career professional, but that’s not who the gun control lobby wants in charge of the ATF. They view this as their golden opportunity to put one of their own in charge of the agency that regulates the firearms industry, and if they can’t get David Chipman, they’ll be more that satisfied if their second-stringer ends up with the job.