Murkowski Switches Vote on ATF Nominee (Updated)

Updated 4:04 p.m. | Democrats and their allies lobbied Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska for more than an hour Wednesday to change her vote on the nominee to head up the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the pressure worked.

Murkowski flipped and voted to advance the nomination of B. Todd Jones to be the ATF's new director. With her vote change, Murkowski both averted a filibuster, and perhaps more importantly, staved off Democratic threats to end the minority's ability to filibuster executive branch nominees. Just weeks ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., backed away from using the "nuclear option" after a number of Republicans, including Murkowski, began voting to beat back filibuster attempts led by their own party.

That tentative agreement was imperiled Wednesday by the struggle to get 60 votes for Jones. Murkowski originally voted "no," but after conferring with Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, John McCain, R-Ariz., Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Reid, among others, the Alaska Republican switched to "yes."

The other GOP "yes" votes were: McCain, Collins, Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.

As of 3:40 p.m., the vote that started at 2 p.m. still was being held open for Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. She was traveling to D.C. from her home state of North Dakota.

Update | Heitkamp's office said in a statement the senator will return to Washington and that she is a "yes."

"This position hasn't had a director for seven years and it's way past time that the job is finally filled. Mr. Jones has strong credentials — he has built a reputation as someone who has aggressively fought back against gang violence and gun trafficking. And 81 U.S. Attorneys, including North Dakota's, have shown their strong support for his nomination, as have many law enforcement officials across the country. I hope the ATF will be able to do its job, just as the American people deserve."