The White House announced Friday that President Barack Obama will nominate Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) as the next U.S. ambassador to China.
“For more than two decades Max Baucus has worked to deepen the relationship between the United States and China,” Obama said in a statement. “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 said he was “humbled by the nomination and deeply honored.”
“The U.S.-China relationship is one of the world’s most important bilateral relationships,” he said in a statement. “It’s an honor to be presented with an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of my mentor, Mike Mansfield, who worked to strengthen and improve America’s important relationships throughout Asia. I welcome this opportunity to continue to serve Montana and my country.”
Mansfield, a Montana Democratic Senator, was the longest-serving U.S. ambassador to Japan.
Baucus, Montana’s longest-serving senator, is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and has immense experience in matters of trade. He has visited China multiple times and led the U.S. effort in the 1990s to bring the country into the World Trade Organization. Still, some observers have viewed Baucus as an odd choice for ambassador to China, as he is neither Chinese American nor speaks fluent Chinese. The Washington Post notes that the office was has been held by fluent Chinese speakers 24 out of the past 32 years.
Tapping Baucus will take a thorn out of the administration’s side on some domestic issues, particularly Obamacare. Baucus has been a frequent critic of the implementation of the health care law, which has come as some surprise since he is one of the Affordable Care Act’s chief architects. In April, Baucus warned of a “huge train wreck” looming in the law’s implementation.
Baucus has recently released a series of sweeping tax reforms, including a plan to lower the corporate tax rate in exchange for moving offshore profits from U.S. companies back home. The senator, who planned to retire in 2014, will now pass his years of work to Ron Wyden, the Senator from Oregon who will likely succeed him on the Finance Committee. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock will appoint Baucus’ interim successor. Jim Messina, who was Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign manager and one of Baucus’ chiefs of staff, was approached for the position, but said Thursday that he is not considering the appointment.
Last week Baucus, 72, told the New York Times that he’s ready for “a whole new adventure, a whole new chapter.”