The Senate Judiciary Committee by a party line vote approved Minnesota U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones's nomination to lead the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Jones' nomination has been stalled by Republican concerns about his leadership style. The nomination now advances to the full Senate.
Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken both backed Jones' nomination.
Jones was nominated almost six months ago but his nomination languished in the Senate due to objections from Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
"The chairman said the hearing was the opportunity for us to question the nominee and get these questions answered but the nominee was non-responsive," Grassley said.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Republican objections to Jones are part of a strategy to cripple the ATF, which has been without a permanent head since 2006.
"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.
Democrats say Jones has provided plenty of information and that Republicans are just stalling.
"As people here know, something is wrong when the Senate fails to confirm the head of an agency for seven years," said Klobuchar, who sits on the Judiciary Committee.
Jones likely faces a Republican filibuster on the Senate floor, although Democrats may weaken that procedural tactic.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may exercise what's known as "the nuclear option" as early as next week which could speed a vote by the full Senate on Jones.
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