President Biden withdrew his nomination of David Chipman, a former federal agent who had promised to crack down on the use of semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity gun magazines, to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The withdrawal is a major setback to the president’s plan to reduce gun violence after several mass shootings this year, and comes after his push to expand background checks on gun purchases stalled in Congress in the face of unified Republican opposition.
“We knew this wouldn’t be easy — there’s only been one Senate-confirmed A.T.F. director in the bureau’s history — but I have spent my entire career working to combat the scourge of gun violence, and I remain deeply committed to that work,” Mr. Biden said in a statement, announcing the withdrawal. “I am grateful for Mr. Chipman’s service and for his work.”
The selection of Mr. Chipman, a longtime A.T.F. official who served as a consultant to the gun safety group founded by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, provoked a powerful backlash from the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun organizations who cast his confirmation as a threat to their Second Amendment rights.
Mr. Biden, who chose Mr. Chipman after receiving pressure from Ms. Giffords and other gun control proponents, needed the support of all 50 senators who caucus with the Democrats and the tiebreaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris to get Mr. Chipman confirmed.
In recent weeks, Senator Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, told Biden administration and leadership officials that he could not support the nomination, citing blunt public statements Mr. Chipman had made about gun owners, people familiar with the situation said.
During a contentious confirmation hearing in May, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee seized on those comments — including an interview in which Mr. Chipman likened the buying of weapons during the pandemic to a zombie apocalypse.
Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, who had originally suggested he was open to the pick, eventually soured on the selection, too.
Mr. Chipman’s nomination deadlocked in the committee, but was reported to the Senate for a floor vote through a parliamentary maneuver. It never received one.
It is the second high-profile nomination of Mr. Biden’s to be withdrawn for lack of Democratic support. In March, Neera Tanden, his pick to head the budget office, pulled out of contention after an uproar over her caustic public statements. She was later hired as a policy adviser in the West Wing.
As hopes for Mr. Chipman’s confirmation waned this summer, White House officials began to discussing bringing him into the administration as an adviser, but no decisions have been made. The administration has no immediate plans to appoint a new nominee, according to a person involved in the process who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
As recently as last month, the White House signaled it was standing by its nominee, praising Mr. Chipman’s 25 years of experience as an A.T.F. agent, but also acknowledging the uphill battle he faced to gain confirmation. White House officials pinned the blame solely on Republican lawmakers, ignoring the opposition from members of the Democratic caucus.
The withdrawal was earlier reported by The Washington Post.
In the 48 years since its mission shifted primarily to firearms enforcement, the A.T.F. has been weakened by relentless assaults from the N.R.A., which critics have argued made it an agency engineered to fail.
Fifteen years ago, the N.R.A. successfully lobbied to make the director’s appointment subject to Senate confirmation — and has subsequently helped block all but one nominee from taking office.
And at the N.R.A.’s behest, Congress has limited the bureau’s budget; imposed crippling restrictions on the collection and use of gun-ownership data, including a ban on requiring basic inventories of weapons from gun dealers; and limited unannounced inspections of gun dealers.
Annie Karni contributed reporting.