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Senate Republicans likely to block ATF nominee

U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones, President Obama's choice to lead the ATF
U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones, President Obama's choice to lead the ATFAssociated Press

About a month ago, President Obama unveiled a fairly detailed policy agenda on preventing gun violence, featuring 23 executive actions, some of which were legally and politically mundane. For example, the president nominated a director for the ATF, which seems like a no-brainer.

Indeed, at least in theory, Republicans shouldn't have a problem with this at all. It's GOP officials who routinely say federal officials should simply enforce the gun laws already on the books -- as opposed to approving new gun laws -- and if the focus is going to be on enforcement, it makes sense to approve a staff for the government agency responsible for, you know, enforcement.

But that's not likely to happen.

President Obama announced his choice of B. Todd Jones to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives last month as a key element in his sweeping slate of gun proposals after the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn. Obama urged Congress to quickly confirm Jones in an effort to embolden an agency that has long operated with limited resources and a part-time director who splits his time between Minneapolis and Washington.

Since then, Senate Republicans have indicated they may block Jones's appointment and have demanded to know more about his role in several operations and policy decisions.

A Justice Department official told the Washington Post, "It's always been an uphill climb for any ATF nominee, but considering where we are at this moment in time, if there was going to be a confirmation, this is as best a time as ever."

That's arguably true, though Senate Republicans probably won't care.

But under the circumstances, they clearly should. As demands on the ATF grow, the agency is trying to do more with less -- not just a smaller budget, but a vastly reduced staff and no confirmed, permanent leadership.

I realize we're in an era of reflexive Republican opposition to anything the White House supports, but if the GOP line on guns is going to stress enforcing existing laws, the Senate minority's obstruction of Jones is untenable.