It's Official: Max Baucus Is Next Ambassador to China

The Senate confirmed one of its own Thursday - Max Baucus, D-Mont. - to be the next ambassador to China.

Baucus, who has served in the Senate for more than three decades, was confirmed with a vote of 96-0. (The vote was called at 3:05. Elizabeth Warren was in the chair.)

"I'm really pleased that my colleague and very dear friend Max Baucus was confirmed by this body the way he was. He will make a fine ambassador to China. I rise today to wish my good friend Sen. Max Baucus good luck," Sen. Orrin Hatch, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, said after the vote.

"We're going to miss Max. I don't think it's fair to this body, but nevertheless I think it's fair to our country that Max will make a good ambassador," Hatch said.

The Montana Democrat, who was instrumental in the passage of President Obama's signature healthcare law, had already announced his plans to step down at the end of 2014 before he was nominated to the ambassadorship post in December. Baucus will replace Gary Locke, who has served as ambassador to China since 2011.

Montana laws allow for Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock to appoint a replacement, who will fill Baucus' seat until the general election in November. Bullock has not said who he will appoint, but he could appoint Lt. Gov. John Walsh, who is running for the Senate seat in 2014.

Baucus' ambassadorship also shifts some of the committee leadership roles in the Senate as he served as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is widely expected to become the next chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, opening up the slot he currently holds as chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who is up for re-election in 2014, could be the next to take Wyden's spot at the top of the Energy committee.

It is unknown when Baucus will assume his position in Beijing.