HELENA – President Barack Obama made it official Friday, announcing he intends to nominate U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., to be the ambassador to China.

“For more than two decades, Max Baucus has worked to deepen the relationship between the United States and China,” Obama said in a statement. “The economic agreements he helped forge have created millions of American jobs and added billions of dollars to our economy, and he’s perfectly suited to build on that progress in his new role.”

After confirmation by the Senate, Baucus will resign the Senate seat he has held since 1978.

The senator wasn’t available for reporters to interview, but his staff released this statement from him:

“I am humbled by the nomination and deeply honored to have the opportunity to represent the United States in China. The U.S.-China relationship is one of the world’s most important bilateral relationships. If confirmed, my goal will be to further strengthen diplomatic and economic ties between our two nations.”

Baucus, 72, said his career has been dedicated to public service, and it’s something he cares about deeply. He has served in the U.S. Senate for 35 years, U.S. House for four years and the Montana House for two years.

“It’s an honor to be presented with an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of my mentor, Mike Mansfield, who worked to strengthen and improve America’s important relationships throughout Asia,” Baucus said. “I welcome this opportunity to continue to serve Montana and my country.”

Mansfield, after concluding his service in the U.S. Senate, served as ambassador to Japan under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

For Baucus, his confirmation will mean the end of an era in the U.S. Senate. He has served there longer than any Montanan and was third in seniority in the 100-member Senate.

In Montana, it will be up to Gov. Steve Bullock to choose Baucus’ replacement.

Baucus already had shocked the state and national political communities in April when he announced he wouldn’t seek a seventh six-year term in the Senate.

At that time, Baucus said he wanted to return to Montana where he and his wife, Melodee, were building a home in Bozeman. Baucus said then he didn’t want to “die with my boots on.”

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Asked about his change of heart, the senator’s spokeswoman, Kathy Weber, said:

“Max was indeed planning on coming home to Montana. But when asked by the president to serve our country as America’s representative in Beijing, he was humbled and honored to be presented with the opportunity.

“It’s a poetic capstone on his career in public service – even as it would delay his plans to come back home. This opportunity gives Max the chance to once again seal his reputation as a statesman in the mold of another great Montanan, Senator Mike Mansfield.”


Obama’s announcement that he intends to appoint Baucus as U.S. ambassador to China drew praise other elected officials as well as agricultural and business leaders. (See related story.)

“For nearly 40 years, Max has been a dedicated public servant for the people of Montana,” his Democratic Senate colleague, Jon Tester, said. “With his years of service on the Finance Committee and deep knowledge of U.S. trade policy, Max will be a tremendous representative for the American people in China. I will miss his leadership and partnership in the Senate, but I know he will continue to serve Montana and the nation to the best of his ability.”

Bullock said Baucus has “dedicated his life to public service and the notion that, through hard work, he could make Montana an even greater place.”

“From helping create the Children’s Health Insurance Program to beating back attempts to privatize Social Security, Max has always put Montanans first,” Bullock said. “I thank him for his service to our state and wish him the best of luck with his new responsibility, representing our country overseas.”

Lt. Gov. John Walsh, a Democrat who is running for the Senate seat, also praised Baucus.

“Max Baucus has served Montana well with distinction and class for 35 years in the U.S. Senate, and I join all Montanans in wishing him the best,” Walsh said. “Max’s service reminds us that Montana needs senators who are committed to courage, selfless service and responsibility.”

Webb Brown, president and CEO of the Montana Chamber of Commerce, said Baucus had spent 40 years “effectively working to solve complex problems in a low-key, no-nonsense manner and I have no doubt he will do an excellent job leading our diplomatic efforts in China.”

Brown, who has traveled with Baucus on international trade missions over the years, added, “He’s incredibly well-respected by world leaders. He has the relationship building skills that are critically important for the U.S.-China relationship at a pivotal time in history.”

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Chuck Johnson is chief of the Lee Newspapers State Bureau in Helena. He can be reached by email at: chuck.johnson@lee.net or by phone at (406) 447-4066 or (800) 525-4920.

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