WASHINGTON, Sept 9 (Reuters) - President Joe Biden on Thursday withdrew his nomination of gun control advocate David Chipman to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives - a federal agency pivotal in his goal of lowering U.S. firearms violence - blaming Republican opposition.
Chipman, who previously worked for the ATF for nearly 25 years, had drawn strong Republican opposition in the Senate, undermining his chances of winning confirmation in a chamber only narrowly controlled by Biden's fellow Democrats. Republicans generally oppose gun control.
Senator Angus King of Maine, an independent who usually votes with the Democrats but was a holdout on Chipman, also was a key factor in the decision to withdraw the nomination, according to two sources, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In a statement issued by the White House, Biden put the blame on Republicans, noting that Chipman, a gun owner himself who had won the backing of law enforcement groups, would have made an exemplary ATF director. The agency, part of the U.S. Justice Department, has responsibilities including investigating the unlawful use and possession of guns and illegal firearms trafficking.
"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.
"That's why they've moved in lockstep to block David Chipman's confirmation, and it's why they side with gun manufacturers over the overwhelming majority of the American people in opposing commonsense measures like universal background checks" for gun buyers, Biden added.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden intends to nominate someone else for the ATF post and is in "active discussions" with Chipman about another government role. The job of ATF director is so politically fraught that the Senate has confirmed only one nominee to the post in the past 15 years. The rest of the ATF's leaders have served in an acting capacity, making it harder to put their stamp on lasting and meaningful policy.
Republicans and pro-gun groups including the National Rifle Association and National Shooting Sports Foundation had opposed Chipman, known for his work at a prominent gun control advocacy group. Chipman serves as a policy adviser for Giffords, a group founded by former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, U.S. Senator Mark Kelly, after a gunman shot her in 2011.
Republicans in particular opposed his support for banning military-style assault weapons, which have been used in some of the most serious U.S. mass shootings in recent years.
Mitch McConnell, the top Senate Republican, wrote on Twitter he was glad to hear of the withdrawal, calling Chipman's nomination "absurd."
"This is a win for the Second Amendment and law-abiding American citizens," said McConnell, referring to the constitutional amendment that guarantees the right to bear arms.
Kris Brown, president of Brady, a group advocating for stricter gun regulation, called Chipman "exceptionally qualified" to lead the agency.
The Senate Judiciary Committee in June split along party lines when it voted to advance his nomination. That meant Democrats would have had to jump through procedural hurdles to get Chipman confirmed.
During his confirmation process, Chipman confronted a social media disinformation campaign falsely claiming he was involved in the deadly 1993 stand-off with the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas.
The ATF is positioned to play a vital role in Biden's pledge to crack down on rising violent crime and shootings. Attorney General Merrick Garland has pledged that the ATF will crack down on gun dealers who fail to conduct background checks, do not assist law enforcement with tracing guns used in crimes, falsify records or sell guns to people prohibited from owning them.
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