WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted in dramatic fashion on Wednesday to approve one of President Barack Obama's nominees. For Democrats to prevail, all it took was a last-ditch vote switch by one senator, a flight back from North Dakota by another and an afternoon roll call that stretched into the evening.
Five hours after the balloting started, the Senate voted to end Republican delaying tactics against B. Todd Jones, Obama's pick to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. It then voted in a comparatively instantaneous 29 minutes for his final confirmation, 53-42.
Democrats initially seemed about to lose their effort to end those delays in a showdown vote that started at 2 p.m. A defeat would have been a setback for Obama, who is trying to plug gaps in his second-term administration's lineup, and dealt a blow to the recent cooperation between the two parties over allowing votes on the president's nominees.
In a prolonged spectacle played out largely in full view on the Senate floor, Democratic senators swarmed around Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), after she at first voted to support GOP delaying tactics.
As the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and other Democrats tried to persuade her to switch her vote, the scrum around Murkowski quickly grew when Republican senators joined the group, urging her not to change.
More than a dozen lawmakers spent nearly an hour imploring Murkowski, first on the Senate floor and then in a private cloakroom. After about 20 minutes of talks in the cloakroom, Murkowski emerged and switched her vote.
In a written statement, Obama applauded senators of both parties for confirming ATF's first director in seven years -- gridlock, he said, caused by Senate Republicans who "put politics ahead of the agency's law enforcement mission."
Republicans have said Obama showed no urgency, waiting until November 2010 -- almost two years after taking office -- before naming his first nominee for the ATF, Andrew Traver, whom the Senate never acted on.
Jones, a former Marine, has been acting ATF director since 2011.