Baucus punches his ticket to China

Greg Nash

The Senate voted 96-0 Thursday to confirm Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) as U.S. ambassador to China.

Baucus was one of many senators President Obama has tapped for foreign affairs positions. Former Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) now serves as secretary of State.

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Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Baucus would go down in history for his work on the “landmark” Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare.

Baucus has served as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and his vast knowledge on trade policy will be an asset for the position. The administration is trying to increase U.S.-China trade relations through a trans-pacific trade deal.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said Baucus would also be strong for the United States on security and human rights issues. Menendez’s committee cleared Baucus’s nomination through a unanimous voice-vote Tuesday.

“He is an excellent choice that President Obama made to represent us in China,” Reid said ahead of the vote. “Although Sen. Baucus will be missed by the entire Democratic Caucus our loss will be the nation’s gain.”

In remarks after the vote, Baucus said he never would have ran for office if not for a year he spent in the early 1960s hitchhiking around the world. He thanked his wife and children; his wife was in the Senate chamber for the vote.

Baucus said his mother, who died in 2011, would have been "incredibly excited and fascinated" with his new post. "While I miss her every day, in fact, I talk to her every day at five o'clock in the afternoon."

Baucus also paid tribute to his father. "He was also such a decent person. No one ever spoke an ill word of my father, ever."

Baucus said he has had one of the best staffs in the Senate, and said his office has spawned six marriages over the years between people working in his office. "And they've all worked, but for one," he said to laughter in the chamber.

Last year, Baucus announced he wouldn’t run for reelection in 2014 after serving in the Senate for nearly 36 years.

Baucus’s appointment as ambassador gives Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) an opportunity to put a fellow Democrat into Baucus’s seat until the election. Many Democratic observers expect the governor to appoint his Lt. Gov. John Walsh (D), who's already running for the vacant seat. An appointment could give him a leg up in the fall against likely GOP nominee Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.).

— Pete Kasperowicz contributed to this article.