Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) will be nominated by President Obama as the next U.S. ambassador to China. The news was first broken by Politico, which attributes it to unnamed sources.
Baucus, age 72, has served in the Senate since 1978. He’s no “China hand,” but he’s well-rehearsed in trade issues. He serves as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade issues. He was involved in efforts to bring China into the World Trade Organization in the 1990s.
Baucus’ long service as a Senator should give him goods odds of getting the Senate to confirm him as ambassador.
The current ambassador to China, Gary Locke, announced in November that he would step down early next year, citing personal reasons. Locke says that one of his greatest achievements was helping to reduce waiting times for a visa to three to five days from highs of 70 to 100 days, which has significantly increased Chinese business and tourism travel to the U.S.
Baucus had announced in April that he would not seek re-election to a next term beginning in 2015. If he leaves the Senate earlier to take up the diplomatic post, that would reportedly allow Montana’s Democratic governor to pick an interim senator, increasing the party’s odds of keeping the seat next term.