Senate votes to confirm US ambassador to China

The Senate easily cleared Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad to be the next U.S. ambassador to China. 

Senators voted 82-13 on Monday to approve the GOP governor's nomination.

Branstad only needed a majority vote. He overcame a procedural hurdle last week in an 86-12 vote. Eleven Democrats and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOcasio-Cortez: Sanders' heart attack was a 'gut check' moment Ocasio-Cortez tweets endorsement of Sanders Ocasio-Cortez throws support to Sanders at Queens rally MORE (I-Vt.) voted against him. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhite House staggers after tumultuous 48 hours The Memo: Trump's sea of troubles deepens McConnell: Trump's troop pull back in Syria a 'grave strategic mistake' MORE (R-Ky.) praised Brandstad, noting his decades of work on agriculture and familiarity with China.

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“His experience on these issues will guide him as he works to strengthen our relationship with China and pursue trade policies that can benefit American workers and businesses,” he said. 

McConnell also knocked Democrats for dragging out Brandstad's nomination, arguing they were only “delaying for delay's sake.”

“They’ve continuously forced procedural hurdles on nominees for no reason other than to stall confirmations, launching more filibusters against this president’s Cabinet than any other in history,” McConnell said. 

Branstad has a long-standing friendship with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The two met in 1985 when Xi was visiting Iowa as an agricultural official. 

Trump got off to a rocky start with China after a historic phone conversation between the then-president-elect and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. 

The direct conversation between the U.S. president and the leader of a nation that China sees as a breakaway province was a break in precedent and threatened to inflame U.S.-China relations. 

Trump then pledged during a February phone call with Xi that he would abide by the “One China” policy, which dictates that Washington recognize Beijing as the only official government of China.

Branstad, 70, is the longest-serving governor in U.S. history. He was Iowa's governor from 1983 to 1999, before beginning his second stint in 2011. 

Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) will take over Iowa's governor's office, making her the incumbent heading into the 2018 election. 

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) told The Hill late last year that he was mulling a run for Iowa's top office.