President Obama on Friday announced his intent to nominate Montana Sen. Max Baucus as Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China.
Baucus would succeed Gary Locke, who steps down in 2014.
"For more than two decades Max Baucus has worked to deepen the relationship between the United States and China," Obama said. "The economic agreements he helped forge have created millions of American jobs and added billions of dollars to our economy, and he’s perfectly suited to build on that progress in his new role.”
Baucus, the senior senator from Montana, has served in the Senate since 1978. He's the state's longest serving U.S. senator and has the third longest tenure among those currently serving.
Baucus, who had already announced plans to retire, chairs the Senate Committee on Finance, is Vice Chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation, and a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. He is a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and chairs its Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
Before his election to the Senate, Baucus was a member of the House from 1975 to 1978. He previously served in the Montana House of Representatives from 1973 to 1974.
Baucus's appointment -- rumoured for days -- was met with criticism from some quarters because of his lack of experience in China, but the White House as recently as Thursday refused to confirm that he was under consideration. Locke and former ambassador Jon Huntsman both had strong ties to the country.
Press Secretary Jay Carney wouldn't confirm the reports, but said that Baucus "has been directly engaged for more than two decades in work to deepen the relationship between the United States and China, and that includes efforts to level the playing field in our trade relationships as well as efforts to open markets and increase trade, and to bring China into the World Trade Organization, and to establish permanent, normal trade relations with China.
"So that just happens to occur to me when it comes to some of the work that Senator Baucus has done in the past," Carney said as reporters laughed at his purportedly off the cuff remarks defending Baucus. Carney refused to comment on whether the Baucus pick is aimed at keeping the Montana Senate seat in Democratic hands. Baucus had been facing a challenging re election when he announced plans to retire.
Montana's Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock would appoint someone to fill Baucus's unexpired term if he steps down. That person would hold the seat until the next statewide general election -- in November 2014