Washington (CNN) - The Senate voted Wednesday to confirm B. Todd Jones as head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, giving the politically controversial agency its first permanent director since 2006.
Senators voted 53-42 to approve Jones - the ATF's acting director since the fall of 2011 - shortly after he received the bare 60 votes needed to clear a key procedural hurdle.
All 54 members of the Democratic caucus voted to move forward with consideration of President Barack Obama's pick, along with six Republicans - New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte, Maine's Susan Collins, South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, Illinois's Mark Kirk, Arizona's John McCain, and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski.
In a rarely seen and dramatic full court lobbying press on the Senate floor, a dozen or so senators from both parties at one point surrounded Murkowski, imploring her to either support or oppose the nomination.
At times, voices were raised and frustrations were evident. Democrats were one vote shy of the 60 needed to move the forward with the nomination, so they were desperate to persuade the independent-minded Alaskan to switch the "no" vote she had already cast to "yes."
After about 30 minutes of heated discussion, Collins broke the logjam by slipping into the middle of the group, putting her arm around Murkowski and whisking her off the floor for relief and private conversation.
About 15 minutes later, Murkowski returned to the floor and told the clerk she would change her vote.
"Lisa's just a friend of mine," Collins told reporters. "I thought we'd have just a nice little chat about what we had to eat last night for dinner."
More seriously, Collins noted, "I was concerned that she was being pummeled by both sides, and thought she might need a little break."
Collins, a rare GOP moderate, said that while she has concerns about Jones, she believes "the way to express those concerns is to vote no on (the actual) nomination rather than voting no" on a procedural matter.
"I think that there are too many filibusters in the Senate," Collins said. "We need to move forward on bills and on nominations and let the Senate work its will."
After Murkowski flipped, Senate leaders held the vote open for several hours, waiting for North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp to return to Capitol Hill and provide the critical 60th vote needed to proceed.
"It was close," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota. "There were a lot of discussions" on the Senate floor about how to find 60 votes. "Sometimes that all gets done ahead of time. This time it was there for the world to see."
In addition to serving as ATF director, Jones, 56, also currently serves as U.S. attorney in Minnesota.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, was one of the leading congressional opponents of Jones's nomination. Among other things, Grassley expressed concern over Jones's handling of a pair of whistle-blower complaints as U.S. attorney.
Congressional Republicans have also become increasingly concerned about the role of the ATF as the issue of the gun-related violence has become more politically polarizing. Jones's prospects received a boost when the National Rifle Association - always a powerful voice in GOP politics - declined to oppose his nomination.
In a statement released after the vote, Obama welcomed the Senate's final approval but accused Republicans of playing politics and delaying the process.
"For nearly seven years, Senate Republicans had refused to confirm an ATF director – not because they thought the nominees weren't qualified, but because they put politics ahead of the agency's law enforcement mission," he said. "I applaud Senator Reid, Senator Leahy, Senator Klobuchar, and the bipartisan group of senators who broke through that gridlock to give Todd Jones the up or down vote he deserved."
This is pathetic...The guy has been doing this job for the past two years. I don't know anyone that had a temp job take two years to go permanent. I wish the Pres. just did the appointment when congress was out of session. There is so much when congress is out of session he could have changed three or four different directors during on year. And this is the government we voted into office? geesh, its amazing what Pres. Obama has had to put up with these past 5 years.
and i applause this very delicate decision Bravo we have enough members now to get some work done !
Well congratulations Mr. Obama, you pushed another of your puppets through, although it doesn't really matter since you've public stated in your recent speeches that you no longer intend to recognize Congress as a relevant branch of the government because they oppose your policies too much. Now you have informed America that you will not obey the Constitution but will do what you think is best. Now we know what you meant by the open mike comment before your 2nd term started when you off handedly remarked that after the election you would be free to do as you pleased. What amazes me the most is not the fact that you are a tyrannical traitor but that the unbelievably naive, crooked, greedy, and ignorant liberal base has followed you to their own eventual grave. You are living proof of reincarnation. You are the new Hitler. Holder is the new Himmler. The NSA is the new Gestapo. You have pushed America far down the road towards a Police State. All of your detractors will soon find themselves in one of the many semi secrete concentration camps that Homeland Security has set up throughout the United States. By the way, the one in San Antonio is very impressive. Double fenced. Plenty of razor wire. More than enough guard towers. Nice dog runs. And of course a very sophisticated security system with plenty of cameras. Doesn't quite make sense why the government would put natural disaster refuges in a place like that does it. Yep, you're the Pied Piper and Liberal Demotards are following you in perfect Lemming fashion. Heil Obama