David Chipman, President Biden’s lightning-rod nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, appeared on Wednesday in front of a Senate panel to make his case for running the agency during a high-stakes confirmation hearing.
The gun lobby, along with its Republican allies in Congress, is mounting a coordinated campaign to sink his nomination, citing his promises to regulate automatic weapons and his support of universal background checks.
Mr. Chipman, a two-decade veteran of the A.T.F. who has served as an adviser to major gun control groups, is in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he faces fierce opposition.
Mr. Biden’s selection of Mr. Chipman came after an intense lobbying campaign by gun safety organizations, led by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords. In recent years, he has worked with groups run by Ms. Giffords and Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City.
The White House was initially reluctant to select a nominee who would provoke such intense opposition, but Mr. Biden decided he needed to take a chance after the mass killings in Atlanta and Boulder earlier this year, White House officials said.
White House officials believe that Mr. Chipman has just enough votes — 50 to 52 in their estimate — to overcome near-unanimous opposition by Republicans.
Two critical Democratic swing votes, Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have told Democratic leaders they are likely to support his nomination, provided the hearings go well. Two Republicans, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, have not ruled out supporting him.
The National Rifle Association had led a decades-long campaign to hobble the A.T.F., which is responsible for enforcing the nation’s gun laws and inspecting gun dealers, drastically reducing the bureau’s effectiveness by fighting funding increases and scuttling efforts to modernize its paper-based system of tracking firearms.
The gun lobby has effectively exercised veto power over the appointment of stable permanent leadership at the bureau, blocking several would-be A.T.F. directors, including a conservative police union official tapped for the post by former President Donald J. Trump.
The N.R.A. spent $2 million on an anti-Chipman ad campaign following his nomination, and pro-gun groups have kept up a drumbeat of criticism, focusing on his presence, as a young agent, at the bloody 1993 siege of a Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.
On Tuesday, 20 Republican state attorneys general sent a letter to the committee accusing Mr. Chipman of being “hostile to our rights and way of life,” and calling for lawmakers to reject his nomination.
On Wednesday, several major policing organizations expressed support for his nomination in the hours leading up to the hearing, in a series of endorsement letters from the National Black Police Association, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association, and Women in Federal Law Enforcement.
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit group that analyzes data for law enforcement agencies, wrote that Mr. Chipman has “enormous credibility” that would help turn the A.T.F. around.
With bipartisan negotiations faltering, President Biden and Senate Democrats are facing difficult decisions about how to salvage their hopes of enacting a major new infrastructure package this year, and waning time to decide whether to continue pursuing compromise with Republicans or try to act on their own.
Senate Republicans who have been negotiating with White House officials said on Tuesday that they would produce a counterproposal to Mr. Biden’s latest $1.7 trillion offer, promising a plan by Thursday that could amount to $1 trillion in public works spending over eight years. But it is unclear whether the two sides can reach common ground, and a group of centrist senators in both parties were quietly discussing a backup option should the talks stall.
Several Democrats are eager for party leaders to abandon the effort to win over Republicans and instead try to use the fast-track budget reconciliation process to muscle through Mr. Biden’s $4 trillion economic plan for both a sweeping infrastructure investment and an expansion of child care, education and work force support with a simple majority.
But that option, too, faces obstacles amid opposition from moderate Democrats who have pushed Mr. Biden and their leaders to find an accord with Republicans — or at least try to — before resorting to the same approach Democrats used to pass the stimulus relief bill in March without any Republican votes.
“There’s no magic date and there’s no magic time,” Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a key Democratic vote, said on Tuesday. “We have to find something reasonable, and I’m always looking for that moderate, reasonable middle, if you can.”
The president has set Memorial Day as a soft deadline to gauge whether the talks have a chance of producing a deal. The thorniest issues remain, including how to define infrastructure and how to pay for the legislation.
Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, the genteel former Navy secretary who shed the image of a dilettante to become a leading Republican voice on military policy during 30 years in the Senate, died on Tuesday night. He was 94.
He died at his home of heart failure, according to a former staff member.
Mr. Warner may have for a time been best known nationally as the dashing sixth husband of the actress Elizabeth Taylor. Her celebrity was a draw on the campaign trail during his difficult first race for the Senate in 1978, an election he won narrowly to start his political career. The couple divorced in 1982.
In the latter stages of his congressional service, Mr. Warner was also recognized as a protector of the Senate’s traditions and was credited with trying to forge bipartisan consensus on knotty issues such as the Iraq war, judicial nominations and treatment of terror suspects.
In retrospect, the senatorial Mr. Warner — with his shock of white hair, immaculate attire and unflagging politeness — represented a vanishing breed in his party, and particularly in his home state, which has become increasingly polarized since his retirement in 2009.
He was a crossover candidate in a state where politicians in both parties had long gravitated to the center, offsetting the loss of conservative voters over the years with crossover support from Democrats and independents.
Mr. Warner served in the Navy briefly at the end of World War II, then joined the Marines to fight in the Korean War, where he served as a ground aircraft maintenance officer, eventually reaching the rank of captain in the reserves.
“I’m devastated to hear of the passing of my dear friend John Warner,” wrote Senator Mark Warner of Virginia on Twitter early Wednesday. “To me, he was the gold standard in Virginia. I will forever be grateful for his friendship and mentorship. I’ll miss you, John.”
The younger Mr. Warner is a Democrat, and is not related to the elder Mr. Warner.
But in a parting act of bipartisan comity, the elder Mr. Warner endorsed him when he retired from the Senate after the 2008 election.
Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, was hurrying to a vote through the Capitol’s cavernous underground tunnel system on a recent Thursday when his phone rang. It was Pete Buttigieg, the secretary of transportation, calling for a quick briefing before an infrastructure meeting he had scheduled with a group of Republican senators.
Mr. Coons brushed off the reporters trailing him, propped his computer tablet against a railing next to the Senate subway track, and began typing away, taking notes, as he lowered his voice to share the skinny on the Republicans.
“These are Republican senators he doesn’t know,” Mr. Coons said of Mr. Buttigieg after the two hung up. “So it’s just sort of tactical advice about specific members. What are their interests? What’s the background? Do you think there’s room for progress?”
Before the end of the day Mr. Coons’s phone would ring several more times, with various White House officials on the other end — seeking counsel, scuttlebutt and insight that President Biden needed to navigate his agenda through the Senate.
To trail Mr. Coons on Capitol Hill is to witness how he operates as an extra pair of eyes and ears for the Biden administration in Congress, a kind of consigliere trusted by both the president and the senators — many of them Republicans — whom Mr. Biden needs to succeed.
It is a far less prestigious job than the one that Mr. Coons — who interned for Mr. Biden three decades ago, became his mentee on the New Castle County Council, campaigned for him in Iowa and now holds the seat that once belonged to him — initially sought in the Biden administration, where he had hoped to serve as secretary of state. But it can demand the same kind of shuttle diplomacy and high-stakes negotiation.
The notion of wind farms churning in the Pacific Ocean, creating clean energy to power homes and businesses, has long been dismissed because of logistical challenges posed by a deep ocean floor and political opposition from the military, which prefers no obstacles for its Navy ships.
But changing technology and a president determined to rapidly expand wind energy have dramatically shifted the prospects for wind farms in the Pacific. On Tuesday, the Navy abandoned its prior opposition and joined the Interior Department to give its blessing to two areas off the California coast that the government said can be developed for wind turbines.
The plan allows commercial offshore wind farms in a 399-square-mile area in Morro Bay along central California, and another area off the coast of Humboldt in Northern California.
The announcement came weeks after the Biden administration approved the nation’s first ever commercial-scale offshore wind farm, to be built off the coast of Massachusetts. About a dozen other offshore wind projects along the East Coast are now under federal review.
The administration estimates that wind turbines in Morro Bay and near Humboldt could together eventually generate enough electricity to power 1.6 million homes.
If those numbers are realized, it could make the California coast one of the largest generators of wind power in the world. The new coastal Massachusetts wind farm is expected to have up to 84 giant wind turbines. By comparison, Mr. Newsom estimated that the California sites could hold more than 300 turbines.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel took a moment on Tuesday to thank the Biden administration for its support during his country’s 11-day conflict with Hamas in Gaza — and then abruptly changed the subject, and his tone.
“We discussed many regional issues, but none is greater than Iran,” Mr. Netanyahu said, standing with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken after their meeting in Jerusalem. He pointedly added that he hoped the United States would not rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, “because we believe that that deal paves the way for Iran to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons with international legitimacy.”
The Israeli leader’s remarks lent a sour note to his welcome of Mr. Blinken. And it undoubtedly echoed in Vienna, where a fifth round of negotiations aimed at bringing the United States and Iran back into compliance with the nuclear agreement, a top priority of President Biden’s, opened on Tuesday.
As Mr. Netanyahu’s remarks made clear, the Gaza conflict appears to have earned Mr. Biden good will with the Israeli leader, and his public. But the prospect of a U.S. return to the nuclear deal threatens to generate new strains between Washington and Jerusalem on a subject that poisoned relations between President Barack Obama and Mr. Netanyahu.
“The big drama looms, and that is the Iran nuclear deal,” said Jonathan Schanzer, a Middle East expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
“I think both Biden and Netanyahu realize that whatever discomfort both sides may have felt throughout this current conflict, it is small fries compared to the political friction that is looming,” Mr. Schanzer added.
Compounding the trouble is the conflict in Gaza, which has created anger in Israel and among Republicans in Congress over Iran’s ties to Palestinian militants. Most analysts say Iran played no active role in this month’s rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza, even though Tehran openly cheered them on.
Karine Jean-Pierre, the principal deputy press secretary for the White House, will hold a televised briefing for the first time on Wednesday, an appearance that is seen both internally and externally as an audition for the press secretary job.
Jen Psaki, the current White House press secretary, recently said that she intended to leave the post after about a year. A former State Department spokeswoman, Ms. Psaki came to the job more battle-tested — and more familiar to the Washington press corps — than Ms. Jean-Pierre, whose work has been steeped in grass roots activism, working on Democratic campaigns and as chief public affairs officer at the liberal group MoveOn.
She is not the heir apparent to replace Ms. Psaki — other names put forth in the internal parlor game include Symone Sanders, the vice president’s press secretary, and Ned Price, the State Department spokesman — but Ms. Jean-Pierre has had frequent contact with the White House press corps in recent months.
To get better acclimated to a White House where top officials tend to obsess over discipline in messaging, Ms. Jean-Pierre, 46, has delivered occasional press briefings aboard Air Force One, a lower-stakes way to brief than on live television.
She is almost always in the room when Ms. Psaki delivers briefings, which has allowed her to familiarize herself with reporters. And the two are friendly: Before the door to the briefing room opens, they often do a dance to shake off their nerves, Ms. Psaki said in an interview with The Times in January.
Ms. Jean-Pierre has made missteps along the way. Earlier this month, the White House rushed to publish an edited transcript when Ms. Jean-Pierre mistakenly told reporters aboard Air Force One that the administration supported Ukraine’s interest in joining NATO. But at other times, she has impressed members of Mr. Biden’s inner circle, including when she kept a cool head speaking to reporters minutes after the president tripped several times while boarding his plane.
“It’s very windy,” she told reporters. “I almost fell coming up the steps myself.”
On Wednesday, her colleagues, including Ms. Psaki, said Ms. Jean-Pierre’s turn at the podium was a history-making moment. Ms. Jean-Pierre will be the first openly gay spokeswoman and the first Black woman in decades to address journalists on behalf of the president in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room. (Judy Smith, a deputy press secretary for President George H.W. Bush, was the first Black spokeswoman to do so in 1991.)
In the past, Ms. Jean-Pierre has spoken about her belief that her identity as a woman of color and daughter of Haitian immigrants cut a sharp contrast to some of the divisive policies and rhetoric that proliferated under Mr. Biden’s predecessor.
“I am everything that Donald Trump hates,” she said in a video she filmed for MoveOn. “I’m a Black woman, I’m gay, I am a mom. Both my parents were born in Haiti.”