The Senate voted 96-0, with Baucus voting present, to confirm the
72-year-old Montana Democrat to the high-profile appointment.
Baucus holds one of the most powerful positions in the Senate as
chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees tax and
He took a firm stance against some of China's trade practices but
also led successful U.S. efforts in the 1990s to help China's
admission to the World Trade Organization and to begin normal trade
relations with Beijing.
During Baucus' confirmation hearing last week, senators expressed
concerns about China's territorial ambitions and urged him to take a
tough line with Beijing. Baucus said he would be "fair, but firm.
Baucus has little direct experience with the security and military
issues that are a growing concern in U.S. relations with China.
In an emotional farewell speech after the confirmation vote, Baucus
promised to build a stronger relationship with China. "The
relationship between the U.S. and China is one of the most important
in the world, and we, both China and the United States, need to get
it right," he said.
China's official Xinhua news agency largely welcomed Baucus'
confirmation, describing him in a commentary as a "well-received
candidate", but said more political trust was needed between
Washington and Beijing.
"The bilateral relationship will be more smooth and fruitful when
China does not feel the U.S. threat of containment and when the U.S.
finds no ulterior Chinese motive to undermine its global
leadership," Xinhua said.
Both Republicans and Democrats made speeches praising Baucus, who
has been a senator since December 1978.
His departure sets off a shift in leadership of at least two
important Senate committees.
[to top of second column]
Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden is expected to be the new leader of the
Senate Finance Committee, leaving his current position as chairman
of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Wyden would likely be
succeeded there by Democrat Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, an
energy-producing state where that position could boost her
challenging bid for re-election this year.
Montana Governor Steve Bullock has not yet said who he will appoint
as temporary successor to fill Baucus' seat until his term expires
in January 2015. Since Bullock is also a Democrat, the appointment
should not shift the balance of power in the Senate, where Democrats
control 55 of the 100 seats.
The race for Baucus' seat in November is seen as one of the keys
that will determine whether Obama's fellow Democrats will keep their
Senate majority after the election. Baucus and Jon Tester, Montana's
other senator, are both Democrats but the state backs Republicans in
Baucus, seen as a moderate Democrat, had announced his intention to
retire from the Senate at the end of 2014, well before Obama
nominated him for the Beijing post last month.
He succeeds Gary Locke, who served as Obama's secretary of commerce
before becoming the U.S. envoy in Beijing.
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell, and
Michael Martina in Beijing; editing by Sandra Maler, Peter Cooney
and Mohammad Zargham)
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