Manchin is a Swing Vote… Again. This Time on ATF Nominee

It is time for another episode of “Manchin in the Middle.”  West Virginia’s Democratic U.S. Senator is again a key vote on a pending issue where the Senate is split.

This time it is over President Biden’s nominee of David Chipman to be the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Chipman spent 25 years at ATF, where he rose through the ranks and investigated terrorist attacks in New York City and Oklahoma City.  As the Washington Post reported, “His supporters think he has a unique background fitting to run the somewhat rudderless agency.”

However, Second Amendment advocates in Congress and the National Rifle Association are working to derail the nomination. They are troubled by some of Chipman’s statements over the years on gun control and his work post-ATF as an advisor to gun control groups.

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled Chipman during his confirmation hearing in May over his support of a ban on “assault weapons,” including the popular AR-15. However, Chipman said his role at ATF would be to enforce existing laws, not make new ones.

He added that he supports the U.S. Supreme Court’s Heller decision, which affirmed an individual’s right to possess a firearm for lawful purposes, including self-defense within the home.

West Virginia Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito is already on record as a “no” vote on Chipman. “It is clear that if David Chipman was confirmed, he would do everything in his power to threaten the rights of law-abiding gun owners in West Virginia and across the country,” Capito said in a statement last month.

Senator Manchin, however, is still on the fence. Politico quoted Manchin last month as saying, “There’s a lot of controversy… I am really undecided.”

When I reached out to Manchin yesterday to see if his position had changed, a spokesperson said, “Senator Manchin is a gun owner and avid sportsman. As such, he has always been a strong supporter of the 2nd amendment. He is currently reviewing the qualifications of Mr. Chipman to serve as ATF Director, just as he considers every nominee who comes to a vote in the Senate.”

The NRA is trying to help Manchin make up his mind by bringing pressure to bear.  Fox News reported recently, “The NRA will run a $250,000 ad buy in the traditional red state (of West Virginia) in an attempt to convince West Virginians to call Sen. Joe Manchin and tell him to vote ‘no’ on David Chipman for head of the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).”

There is also a ground game to sway Manchin.  The office of Representative Dan Crenshaw is pitching the conservative Republican Congressman from Texas as a guest on talk radio in West Virginia—he was on Talkline Thursday—to urge voters to contact Manchin’s office to tell him to vote ‘no’ on Chipman.

Manchin has been through the gun control wringer before.  Some gun rights advocates excoriated him over the modest proposal with Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey for background checks on private gun sales with exemptions for transfers among family members.

Manchin is empowered by being the man in the middle of this divided Senate. But in the case of the Chipman nomination, that also means Manchin has a target on his chest.


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