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Sen. Max Baucus to be nominated as U.S. Ambassador to China

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., will retire from the Senate before the end of his term to be named the next U.S. ambassador to China, CBS News has learned.

The senior senator from Montana announced in April that he would not seek re-election in 2014 in order to focus on legislating without the “demands of a campaign,” and to spend more time with his family.

If confirmed, he would replace Gary Locke, the former Commerce Secretary who took over the job in March 2011. Locke, the first Chinese-American to hold the job, announced last month he would step down to rejoin his family.

Baucus, 72, currently serves as the chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, and has been actively involved in efforts to reform the tax code. He was one of the handful of red-state Democrats in the Senate who could have faced a tough re-election battle if he chose to seek office again. There are currently three people vying for the seat, including Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., current Lt. Gov. John Walsh and former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger, both Democrats.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Gov. Steve Bullock, D-Mont., will make an appointment to fill Baucus’ vacant seat after he officially steps down as senator.  That person, reportedly Democratic Lt. Gov. John Walsh, would hold the seat until the next regularly-scheduled statewide general election, which, in this case, is next November.

Before Locke, the post of U.S. Ambassador to China was held by former Utah Gov. John Huntsman, a Republican, who left the post to run for the GOP nomination in the 2012 election despite repeated assurances to administration officials that he did not intend to challenge President Obama. He was among the early candidates to drop out of the race in January 2012.

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