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Kerry backs Sullivan as ATF chief

Urges senators to drop their hold on Mass. attorney

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Associated Press / December 14, 2007

WASHINGTON - Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts is urging Idaho's Republican senators to drop their hold on US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan's nomination to become director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

Yesterday, Kerry called the US attorney in Massachusetts and President Bush's choice to lead the ATF a "qualified professional" who deserves swift Senate confirmation.

"Michael Sullivan has spent a lifetime protecting communities from crime," Kerry said in a statement. "I am disappointed that his nomination is now in jeopardy simply because he has responsibly enforced our country's laws. I hope this experienced and capable nominee is confirmed without further delay."

Senators Larry Craig and Mike Crapo have put separate holds on Sullivan's nomination, saying the ATF has become overly aggressive in enforcing gun laws. Sullivan has been the acting ATF director for more than a year.

Under Senate rules, a single senator, sometimes anonymously, can put a hold on legislative action for months. Sullivan recently met with the two lawmakers, who were awaiting answers to questions they had for him.

Bush nominated Sullivan in March and the Senate Judiciary Committee approved his nomination last month. Sullivan was not available for comment yesterday.

Sullivan is not the first Massachusetts presidential appointee to have his nomination blocked in the Senate.

President Clinton nominated William Weld, a former governor, to be ambassador to Mexico in 1997. But Jesse Helms, a North Carolina senator and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, single-handedly scuttled the nomination. Helms, a conservative, simply refused to hold a confirmation hearing for Weld, a more moderate Republican.

Rob Gray, a Republican consultant in Massachusetts who worked for Weld during his fight with Helms, said he expected the White House to try to convince Craig and Crapo to drop their objections.

"It's a speed bump the White House, rather than the senators from Massachusetts, will have to work through," Gray said. "It seems to be on a conservative issue."

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