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Manchin and Tester pledge support for Biden’s ATF nominee in major steps toward confirmation

<i>Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin told CNN that he will vote in favor of President Joe Biden's nominee
AFP via Getty Images
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin told CNN that he will vote in favor of President Joe Biden's nominee

By Morgan Rimmer and Manu Raju, CNN

President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead a key agency regulating firearms appears to have enough votes to win confirmation, overcoming nearly a decade of opposition from gun-rights groups who have derailed past attempts to approve a director for the post.

On Thursday, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin told CNN that he would back Steve Dettelbach to run the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and a spokesperson for Sen. Jon Tester said the Montana Democrat would do the same. Those pledges mean Democrats almost certainly will have at least 50 Senate votes to push the nomination through — with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie if necessary. Manchin’s support comes on the heels of the decision by Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, to back Dettelbach after he effectively derailed Biden’s first pick for the post last year.

“I’m going to support him,” said Manchin. “I feel confident he’ll be able to lead this extremely important (agency) and protect the people who are on the front lines, and these agents need leadership and they need someone who understands what they do and how vital their services are to our country.”

“As a proud gun owner and defender of the 2nd Amendment, Senator Tester plans to support Mr. Dettelbach’s nomination because our law enforcement agencies need to be fully staffed with leaders who will combat crime and support our brave folks who keep Montana communities safe,” the statement from Tester’s spokesperson read.

Those decisions mean the White House likely won’t suffer another embarrassment in its efforts to fill the post, after it withdrew the nomination of David Chipman to lead the bureau last September. Chipman had faced stiff resistance among moderate Democrats and King — as well as GOP senators — over his past record on gun control. King is an independent senator who caucses with Democrats.

This time around, some Democrats had referenced the Texas elementary school shooting as well as a recent mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, to argue the necessity of quickly confirming a new ATF director.

“We cannot afford to keep saying some day in the future, somehow we will take action, I think the least we could do is deliver a Senate-confirmed leader for the ATF,” Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said last month.

A former federal prosecutor, Dettelbach was previously unanimously confirmed by the Senate to serve as the US attorney for the Northern District of Ohio under President Barack Obama.

The ATF has operated under a series of acting directors since its last Senate-confirmed leader stepped down in 2015, and the Senate last confirmed an ATF nominee in 2013.

This story has been updated with additional details Thursday.

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CNN’s Devan Cole, Clare Foran and Lauren Fox contributed to this report.

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