Sen. Baucus One Step Closer to Ambassadorship

January 29, 2014

pic-congress-hearingOn Tuesday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) faced his colleagues when he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at his confirmation hearing to be the next U.S. Ambassador to China.

Sen. Baucus was formally nominated to the ambassadorial post by President Barack Obama on Jan. 7 and while some have suggested the president made the appointment so Montana Lt. Gov. John Walsh could be installed in the Senate, giving him a boost ahead of the November election in which he hopes to win Baucus’ seat for a full term,  Baucus is expected to be quickly confirmed for the position.

Speaking at his Senate confirmation hearing, Baucus said he wants to help the U.S. build a more equitable economic relationship with China while encouraging the Asian giant to act responsibly as it emerges as a global power.

During the hearing, Baucus faced mostly friendly questions from members of both parties, although he did acknowledge that he is “no real expert on China” which drew a bit of criticism.

However, under further questioning from fellow senators, Baucus acknowledged that the U.S. has a complicated relationship with China, one that extends beyond economic issues. Senators were especially concerned that China declared an air defense zone over the East China Sea in Nov. The U.S., Japan and other countries have denounced the zone and said they would ignore China’s demands that their military aircraft announce flight plans, identify themselves and follow Chinese instructions.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will advance his nomination to the Senate floor possibly as soon as next Tuesday. Last year, Baucus said he would not seek re-election to another Senate term this fall. If confirmed as ambassador to China, he would replace Ambassador Gary Locke.

As his tenure as the Senate’s chief taxwriter begins to draw to a close, it remains unclear what further action, if any, he will take on tax reform. Once Baucus is confirmed, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), is expected to take over as leader of the Finance Committee. But Wyden, who introduced bipartisan comprehensive tax reform bills in the 111th and 112th Congresses, generally has remained quiet on how he would approach tax reform once he becomes committee chairman.

Baucus’s departure would also open up a Democratic seat on the Finance committee. Although no official details have been released on who Senate Democratic leaders will name to fill that vacancy, many believe the two leading contenders for the seat are Democratic Sens. Mark Warner (Va.) and Amy Klobuchar of (Minn.).