The full U.S. Senate as soon as next week could vote on the nomination of Minnesota U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, after the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved his nomination, MPR reported.
The panel was split 10-8 along party lines on the controversial nomination, with Republicans opposed and Democrats supportive of Jones. A Senate floor battle looms: Democrats would need at least six Republicans to support Jones' nomination for him to be installed in the job, the Star Tribune notes.
Jones' chief critics include Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who says Jones has not provided the Senate with key information related to his record.
Jones, who has been acting ATF director since 2011 (in addition to his U.S. Attorney duties), has come under scrutiny for his management style, the Star Tribune notes. He also faces opposition from the powerful gun lobby in Washington, the Pioneer Press reports.
The ATF has been without a permanent director since 2006, mostly because of political squabbling in the Senate, where nominations are considered. The agency, which has been beset by scandals, including the Fast and Furious scandal, has languished without a permanent leader, many observers say. Gun lobbyists have sought to undercut the agency and pushed to limit its power and slash bureau funding, the New York Times reported earlier this year.
Jones has the support of Minnesota's two DFL U.S. senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., criticized Republicans for stalling on the nomination, MPR reported.
"You keep cutting the ATF, denying it leadership, making it impossible for it to act and then you say, 'why aren't they acting?' You can't have it both ways," Leahy said.