Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, center, speaks with Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., left, while Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., walks by at right, as the Senate votes to formally begin debate on a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure plan at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, July 30, 2021. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is in danger of failing after U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine has signaled reservations about the pick.

The Democratic president’s nomination of David Chipman to lead the law enforcement agency tasked with investigating gun crimes has been fraught since he made it in April. Chipman, a former ATF agent, has been opposed by conservatives and gun-rights groups due to his recent work at a gun-control advocacy group and his support for an assault-weapons ban.

Politico reported on Tuesday that King has signaled to the Biden administration and top senators that he is leaning against supporting the nomination. Only one member of the Democratic caucus — which includes King — must defect to sink the nomination. Two more Democratic senators have not stated positions on Chipman.

King has communicated reservations about Chipman to colleagues, spokesperson Matthew Felling said on Wednesday, but the senator “remains in listening mode and continues to hold calls with those on both sides of the nomination.”

The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, an influential gun-rights group here, has been lobbying Maine’s Senate delegation to oppose Chipman. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, said she would vote against him in June, calling his record “unusually divisive.”

David Trahan, the executive director of the sportsman’s group, said it has been clear for a while that Chipman’s nomination is in danger. He said the Biden administration should reverse course and pick a nominee with less political baggage, suggesting Acting Director Marvin Richardson, the former second-in-command and a 30-year veteran of the agency.

“Anytime that agency acted [under Chipman], it would be questioned whether it was political or not,” Trahan said. “So in the end, I think it will actually be good for the Biden administration to have a different person in there.”

King represents a gun-friendly state, but he has been willing to back some gun-control measures in the past. The independent wrote a 2013 Bangor Daily News Op-Ed in favor expanding required background checks to private gun sales and a magazine limit, though he has opposed bids to reinstitute an assault-weapons ban. Maine voters turned back a referendum in 2016 that would have expanded background checks.

If he was confirmed, Chipman would be only the second ATF director confirmed by the Senate since the post was created in 2006. Biden spokesperson Jen Psaki did not address King’s position at a Wednesday briefing, instead blaming Republicans for holding the process up even though Democrats could advance the nomination alone.

“We are disappointed by the fact that many Republicans are moving in lockstep to try to hold up his nomination and handcuff the chief federal law enforcement agency tasked with fighting gun crimes,” Psaki said.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...