The US Senate on Wednesday confirmed a director for the federal agency that regulates firearms, fulfilling one of the demands US President Barack Obama made after the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting.
After a delay while lawmakers awaited the return of a colleague who was flying in from North Dakota, senators voted 53 to 42 to install prosecutor Todd Jones as director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
The troubled bureau, which gun-rights activists often criticize as too aggressive, has experienced stagnant funding and had lacked a permanent director since 2006.
In January, a month after a gunman opened fire at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing 20 children and six adults, Obama asked the Senate to confirm an ATF director as part of his plan to prevent future killings.
Many of Obama’s other demands, such as an expansion of federal background checks, have failed to win the necessary support in Congress.
For the firearms bureau, Senate Democrats echoed Obama’s frustrations.
“It is time for the Senate to do its job and confirm an ATF director for the first time in seven years,” Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, said on Wednesday.
Jones has run the ATF as part-time acting director since September 2011, while remaining the US attorney for Minnesota, the state’s chief federal prosecutor.
A former US Marine, he joined the US Department of Justice after Obama took office in 2009.
Removing some potential opposition to Jones, the National Rifle Association, the largest US gun-rights lobbying group, said it was neutral on him.
Votes typically last 15 minutes, but Democrats who control the Senate required much longer to confirm Jones. To reach a 60-vote threshold to end the debate, they needed Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota to fly to Washington. While Heitkamp was absent from the floor, lawmakers kept up an unusual, five-hour procedural vote needed to clear the way for the confirmation.