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Baucus to Be Named Ambassador to China

Baucus to Be Named Ambassador to China

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - December 18, 2013

Longtime Democratic Sen. Max Baucus will be nominated by President Obama to serve as ambassador to China, a Democratic official confirmed, citing the Finance Committee chairman’s decades-long ties to that country and his efforts on trade.

The news was first reported by Politico.

The Montana lawmaker announced his retirement earlier this year, putting his seat in play for Republicans. But if he leaves for the new diplomatic post before his term expires, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock will appoint a successor, giving his party a leg-up in a race that will help determine the balance of power in the Senate.

Democratic Lt. Gov. John Walsh is considered the front-runner in the primary for Baucus’ seat, and is backed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Majority Leader Harry Reid. (Former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger is also running.) Being appointed to the Senate would give him incumbency status and strengthen his bid in 2014.

Though Baucus has held his seat for more than three decades, the red state he represents figures to be difficult terrain for Democrats next year. Mitt Romney won by 13 points there last year, but Montana voters also re-elected Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and elected Bullock. GOP Rep. Steve Daines is the likely nominee for his party. Republicans need to net six seats to gain control of the Senate.

Baucus’s exit, however, does not bode well for tax reform efforts. As chairman of the tax writing Finance Committee, he and House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp have been working together on an overhaul of the tax code and traveling the country to gain support. West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller is the next highest-ranking Democrat on the committee, but he is retiring next year also, making Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden -- an Intelligence Committee member and thorn in Obama’s side over domestic spying revelations -- a possible successor to the departing chairman.

Baucus was a key architect of the Affordable Care Act -- the measure went through his committee -- but he has been critical of its rollout, and fretted earlier that its implementation would be “a train wreck,” a remark Republicans often cite in their opposition to the law. Baucus has also been an irritant within his party when it comes to Social Security and tax issues, irking fellow Democrats by voting for the so-called Bush tax cuts in 2001. Earlier this year, he voted against a bipartisan background check measure for gun buyers, citing the political climate in his state, but announced his impending retirement soon after.

Baucus’ longtime campaign manager, Montana native Jim Messina, also ran Obama’s re-election effort in 2012.

As Finance chairman, Baucus has dealt with trade issue relevant to China. Officials say he has visited the country eight times, hosted trade delegations with current and former Chinese presidents, and led the effort to bring China into the World Trade Organization in the 1990s.

White House Correspondent Alexis Simendinger contributed to this report. 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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