WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing Jan. 28 on President Barack Obama's pick of retiring Sen. Max Baucus to serve as ambassador to China.
The six-term Democratic senator is expected to sail toward confirmation by his colleagues. If confirmed, Baucus would replace Gary Locke, who has announced plans to leave the diplomatic post.
Baucus, 72, has served in the Senate for more than three decades. He said last year he would not seek re-election to another term.
Obama announced the nomination last year.
Baucus said in a statement Wednesday that he is looking to follow in the footsteps of his friend and mentor, the late Sen. Mike Mansfield, who was U.S. ambassador to Japan for more than a decade after leaving the Senate.
"The U.S.-China relationship is one of the world's most important bilateral relationships. My goal will be to further strengthen diplomatic and economic ties," Baucus said.
If Baucus is confirmed and resigns from the Senate to take the new post, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana will get to name a replacement to fill the seat until January 2015.
Bullock has repeatedly declined to discuss who he may be considering or how he will go about vetting candidates.
"Until there is a vacancy, we're going to stay mum on it," Bullock spokesman Mike Wessler said Wednesday.
Bullock's lieutenant governor, John Walsh, has asked the governor to appoint him to the seat once it becomes available.
That appointment would give Walsh experience and a higher visibility as he seeks the Democratic nomination for the seat in this year's elections — and possibly give Democrats a boost at retaining control of the Senate.
Republicans need to gain a net of six seats to gain control of the Senate.
Former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger, who is competing against Walsh for the Democratic nomination, said the race would become almost impossible for him to win if Bullock appoints Walsh, and that he may withdraw if that happens.
Freshman Rep. Steve Daines is running for the Republican nomination.