On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a high-profile hearing on President Obama’s nominee to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, B. Todd Jones. Jones is an exceptionally qualified nominee. He currently serves as both the acting director of ATF and as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota (a position for which he was unanimously approved by the Judiciary Committee in 2009).
|B. Todd Jones|
Though ATF plays a critical law enforcement role, including involvement in investigating tragedies like the Sandy Hook school shootings, the Boston Marathon bombing, and the industrial explosion in West, Texas, the agency has not had a permanent director since 2006 – that’s when the law was changed to require Senate confirmation That sad reality may continue, as Republican questions at the hearing suggest that they may continue to obstruct executive nominees as a way to prevent agencies they don’t like from functioning.
Many Republican questions raised tangential concerns about Jones’s record. For instance, the Committee’s ranking member, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa)—yes, the very same senator who wants to get rid of three judicial seats on the second most important court in the country, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals—pressed Jones to answer for a botched ATF operation, Fast and Furious. But Jones actually was brought in to clean up after the fact.
Moreover, just before the hearing ended, there was a telling exchange between Grassley and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Sen. Grassley requested that the hearing record remain open for longer than the normal one week period, based on the expectation that there were “a lot of things that could come up.” Senator Klobuchar agreed to keep it open for two weeks. Sensing dissatisfaction in Grassley’s reaction, she asked, “What would you like?” Senator Grassley responded, “Until we get done with this whole [thing].” While the senators’ quick negotiation seemed to be good-spirited, it sounds like Sen. Grassley has no interest in quickly moving Jones’s nomination to the Senate floor. This stonewalling is particularly hypocritical in light of repeated Republican statements that we don’t need new gun laws, we just need to “enforce the laws on the books.”
Of course, Jones is just one of a slew of highly qualified Obama nominees that Republicans so farhave refused to confirm because they disapprove of the organization itself (see EPA Administrator nominee Gina McCarthy, CFPB director nominee Richard Cordray, Labor Secretary nominee Tom Perez, and three NLRB nominees. If Republicans continue to hold agencies hostage by unfairly blocking confirmations, the Senate majority should revisit reforming Senate rules.