Minnesota's U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones appears before a U.S. Senate committee, nominated as the permanent head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
He was nominated to the posy by President Barack Pbama in January following the Newtown, Conn., school massacre. Jones has already been serving as the acting head of ATF and splitting his time between Minnesota and Washington since 2011.
Presidents have long had the power to pick an ATF chief without needing congressional approval. That changed in 2006 when Congress required Senate confirmation for the post. The agency has not had a permanent head since.
At the daily White House press briefing Monday, press secretary Jay Carney noted Jones' upcoming hearing and poked at the GOP, who he said is to blame for the agency's lack of leadership.
"For the past six years, [the ATF] has been serving without a confirmed director because Senate Republicans have blocked every nominee regardless of their qualifications," Carney said.
Scores of law enforcement groups and people who have worked with Jones have written endorsements in support of the nomination, but his nomination has languished in the Senate until now because of the thorny politics of gun control.
“When you don't have a permanent director, you start to have problems with these sort of loose cannon people who have been getting the ATF into trouble.”Heather Martens of Protect Minnesota
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, says endorsements are not enough.
Grassley has asked for information from Jones, the ATF and the White House administration about a series of ATF operations, including a failed gun-running sting called "Fast and Furious" that left a U.S. agent dead. The Iowa senator also wants more information about a whistleblower case involving Jones's work in Minnesota.
In an interview last week, Grassley said he had not received any of the documents he requested.
"This is information you have if you're going to be able to conduct a hearing," Grassely said.
Republicans in the U.S. House have held extensive hearings into "Fast and Furious" and some have even claimed the operation was a pretext for the federal government to tighten gun laws.
Grassley's concerns about documents delayed the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing by a week, and as of Monday, his office said he still had not received the requested information.
Even though Democrats control the Senate, individual senators have considerable power to block and slow presidential appointments. In the past few years, Republicans have begun to insist on a 60-vote threshold for many nominees, even when in the past only a majority vote was required.
Grassley said any further delay of Jones' nomination will not be the fault of Republicans.
"They're slowing it up by not providing us with the information that Congress is entitled to," Grassley said.
Gun control advocates argue that by allowing a hearing to go forward, Jones will be able to explain the ATF's missteps and how he has fixed them.
"He deserves a hearing so the committee can consider his nomination and he can address any concerns raised by Sen. Grassley in an open and public forum," DFL U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said. Klobuchar has been a strong supporter of Jones's nomination and will be chairing Tuesday's hearing.
Heather Martens of the gun control group Protect Minnesota said the agency needs a permanent leader to prevent future scandals.
"When you don't have a permanent director, you start to have problems with these sort of loose cannon people who have been getting the ATF into trouble," Martens said.
Speaking on a press call organized by liberal groups, former ATF agent Joe Vine said the bureau would remain rudderless until the Senate confirms a new director, because acting heads don't have the clout to defend the agency before Congress.
"No one will risk their career for a temporary appointment," Vine said.
One thing Jones can count on is that he is not alone. Dozens of Obama's nominees are also facing Republican-led roadblocks in the Senate, including those tapped to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and the Labor Department.