Baucus chosen for ambassador to China

Baucus chosen for ambassador to China
© Greg Nash

President Obama will nominate Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max BaucusMax BaucusGOP hasn’t reached out to centrist Dem senators Five reasons why Tillerson is likely to get through Business groups express support for Branstad nomination MORE (D-Mont.) for ambassador to China, lobbyists and a leading GOP senator said Wednesday.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchOvernight Finance: US preps cases linking North Korea to Fed heist | GOP chair says Dodd-Frank a 2017 priority | Chamber pushes lawmakers on Trump's trade pick | Labor nominee faces Senate US Chamber urges quick vote on USTR nominee Lighthizer Live coverage: Day three of Supreme Court nominee hearing MORE (Utah), the top Republican on the Finance Committee, said he understood that tapping Baucus for the key diplomatic post was a “done deal.”

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Hatch did not delve into specifics on how or when he learned of the plan, but cited a “good authority.”

“I understand it’s a done deal. I’m going to miss him.”

Baucus, a key architect of President Obama’s signature healthcare law and a champion of tax reform, told reporters on Wednesday that he wouldn’t comment, but did not deny that he would be chosen for the ambassadorship.

“There’s a lot of stuff flying around. A lot of names,” Baucus said. “I’m not going to speculate. That’s not for me to discuss.”

Baucus announced earlier this year that he would not seek a seventh term in 2014, stunning many in the political world and on K Street.

The move to join the Obama administration is another surprise, and could have a political upside for Senate Democrats.

By leaving the Senate early, it allows Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) to fill the seat ahead of a difficult election fight in the conservative-leaning state.

A former Senate Democratic aide said that Montana’s current lieutenant governor, John Walsh (D), is expected to be appointed to Baucus's seat once the confirmation process is complete.

That would allow Walsh, who was already seeking Baucus’s seat, to run as an incumbent. Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) had been leading Walsh in polls and is considered a strong candidate for the GOP.

A source close to Baucus said the choice made sense for several reasons — including that the senator had been the top Democrat on Finance, the committee that oversees trade issues, for a dozen years.

Baucus also helped to normalize trade relations with China and has been a frequent visitor to the country, though he has also been critical of Beijing’s currency policies.

The White House is expected to try to move Baucus’s nomination forward quickly, according to another source familiar with the situation.

Gary Locke, the current U.S. ambassador to China, announced last month that he was stepping down.

The nomination of Baucus will also bring change to the leadership of the Finance Committee, a powerful panel which wide jurisdiction over taxes and spending.

Sen. Jay RockefellerJay RockefellerObama to preserve torture report in presidential papers Lobbying world Overnight Tech: Senators place holds on FCC commissioner MORE (D-W.Va.), currently chairing the Commerce Committee, is next in line to take over the Finance committee. But Rockefeller has said he will not run for reelection in 2014, and media outlets reported that he showed scant interest Wednesday in taking over the powerful committee.

That would give Sen. Ron WydenRon WydenThe Hill’s Whip List: Where Dems stand on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Overnight Regulation: Senate moves to strike Obama-era internet privacy rules Overnight Tech: Senate votes to eliminate Obama internet privacy rules | FCC chief wants to stay out of 'political debate' on fake news | Wikileaks reveals new CIA docs MORE (D-Ore.), currently the Energy and Natural Resources chairman, the chance to take the gavel. Under that scenario, Sen. Mary LandrieuMary LandrieuMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Five unanswered questions after Trump's upset victory Pavlich: O’Keefe a true journalist MORE (D-La.), a top GOP target in 2014, could become chairwoman of the Energy panel.

Wyden has shown a keen interest in several of the key issues on Finance’s plate, including tax reform and Medicare, but some Democrats have also been nervous about the Oregon Democrat’s willingness to work with Republicans like House Budget Chairman Paul RyanPaul RyanReport: Trump didn't want to talk details in Freedom Caucus meeting Rock band Papa Roach joins in on Twitter joke about Ryan being a fan Trump, GOP fumble chance to govern MORE (R-Wis.).

Ryan said this week that he’d like to take over the House Ways and Means Committee, which also has jurisdiction over those issues, in 2015. The current Ways and Means chairman, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), has worked closely with Baucus and is term-limited at the panel.

Baucus’s exit would be a serious blow to his efforts with Camp to push comprehensive tax reform across the finish line.

Hatch acknowledged the challenges ahead for tax reform, as many already saw the effort facing long odds.

“The odds against getting tax reform done are pretty high right now. I don't think Senate Democrats want it and I'm not so sure the people in the House want to go through that right now," he said.

Nonetheless, Hatch refused to call the effort kaput.

“Nothing’s ever a death knell around here. If people have the desire you can do some wonderful things,” Hatch said.

Baucus nomination is almost certain to be approved. Hatch said if Baucus is nominated for the post as he expects, he believes the Senate should confirm him “immediately.”

“We’ve all known him for years and years, and it would be improper to not put him right through.”

The news about Baucus's nomination was first reported by Politico. A Baucus staffer declined to comment on the potential nomination.

— This story was updated at 7:30 p.m.