The White House on Thursday warned that calls from some House Republicans to abolish or cut funding for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) undercut efforts to fight drug cartels and reduce crime.
Andrew Bates, a deputy White House press secretary, warned that “MAGA Republican extremism in Congress is a growing threat to the fight against violent crime and fentanyl trafficking.”
“MAGA Republicans in Congress are trying to defund and abolish the ATF, the federal law enforcement agency responsible for helping stop the flow of firearms into the hands of gun traffickers,” Bates said in a statement. “MAGA Republicans are also obstructing President Biden’s assault weapons ban, even though assault weapons purchased in the United States are arming drug cartels and enabling them to outgun law enforcement. Congressional Republicans’ are choosing tax giveaways for the rich over law enforcement officers, and the gun industry’s profits over Americans’ lives.”
Biden’s fiscal year 2024 budget proposal called for an increase in funding for the ATF, a Justice Department agency that is tasked with stopping weapons trafficking and targeting violent criminal groups.
The ATF has long been a popular target for conservatives who view it as a threat to the Second Amendment, with various proposals to get rid of the agency entirely being introduced over the years. Conservative House Republicans have in the past year pushed back on ATF rules regulating the use of silencers and the use of pistol braces.
House Republicans looking to slash government funding have also signaled they may look at the ATF as one source for potential cuts. In late March, two House subcommittees held a joint hearing titled “ATF’s Assault on the Second Amendment: When is Enough Enough?”
More broadly, former President Trump on Wednesday pressed for House Republicans to defund the FBI and Justice Department as he faces multiple criminal investigations. Some of Trump’s staunchest supporters in the House have backed calls to defund the FBI, but the former president’s rhetoric threatens to undercut the GOP’s tough on crime message.
The White House has looked to bolster the ATF and local law enforcement as a way to curb mass shootings and gun violence, rejecting calls from some liberals to defund the police.
President Biden first nominated David Chipman to lead the agency, but his nomination did not garner enough support in the Senate. Biden’s second nominee, Steve Dettlebach, was confirmed last year, becoming the first Senate-confirmed leader of the agency since the Obama administration.
Biden has also repeatedly called for a ban on assault weapons in the wake of mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas; Buffalo, N.Y.; and more recently at a Nashville school. But such a measure does not have enough votes in the Senate to overcome the 60-vote filibuster threshold, and it would not pass the Republican-controlled House.