President Joe Biden's nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Steve Dettelbach, speaks during an event in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, April 11, 2022. Credit: Carolyn Kaster

Sen. Angus King told reporters in Washington on Wednesday that he is likely to support President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead a key federal law enforcement division that has been without Senate-confirmed leadership since 2015.

The independent senator from Maine is considered key to the confirmation after he helped sink Biden’s first nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives last year. King’s support could pave the way for Steve Dettelbach to take the reins at the agency.

The Senate has struggled to confirm ATF directors since the position became subject to confirmation in 2006 due to backlash from gun rights groups such as the National Rifle Association. It has not had a confirmed director since 2015. Former President Donald Trump’s pick failed to gain support in the Senate despite backing from police groups.

Biden’s first pick, the hard-charging former ATF agent David Chipman, had his nomination withdrawn last fall after King had privately expressed skepticism. Chipman received particular backlash from gun-rights groups over his work with the gun-control group Giffords.

The Democratic president then nominated Dettelbach, a former U.S. attorney from Ohio. His confirmation hearing was ongoing on Wednesday, a day after a mass shooting at a Texas elementary school killed 21 people.

King, who caucuses with Democrats, said on Wednesday he was “likely to support” Dettelbach’s nomination after meeting with him last week, the Washington Post reported. The Maine senator also told CNN that “this guy is the right guy.”

Dettelbach will likely need every member of the Democratic caucus to get confirmed. Two rural-state Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana, said they were waiting until Dettelbach’s hearing wrapped up to make a decision, CNN reported.