By DAVID ESPO and DONNA CASSATA
President Barack Obama intends to nominate Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., as ambassador to China, Democratic officials said Wednesday, turning to a lawmaker well-versed in trade issues to fill one of the nation’s most important diplomatic posts.
If confirmed by the Senate, Baucus would replace Ambassador Gary Locke, who announced last month he was stepping down.
There was no immediate comment from the White House on the disclosure, which was made by officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the nomination publicly before a formal announcement.
Kathy Weber, a spokeswoman in Baucus’ office, declined to confirm the move but said, “Max has given his life to public service and when asked to serve he takes that request very seriously.”
Baucus, 72, was first elected to the Senate in 1978, and since early 2007 has been chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. The panel has jurisdiction over taxes, trade, health care and more.
His appointment would create a vacancy atop the panel that Senate Democrats would fill. Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia is immediately behind Baucus in seniority and ordinarily would ascend to the chairmanship but has announced he intends to retire at the end of next year. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) of Oregon is next in line in seniority.
If confirmed before the end of next year, Baucus would resign his seat and create a vacancy, which Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, would fill. A top candidate would likely be Lt. Gov. John Walsh, who has announced his candidacy to run for the seat.
Associated Press writer Matt Volz in Helena, Mont., contributed to this report.