Montana Senior U.S. Senator Max Baucus was questioned by a Senate panel today, January 28, to determine whether or not he should be confirmed as the next Ambassador to China.

The hearing began with an introduction by Montana's Junior Senator Jon Tester that attempted to link Baucus to former Ambassador to Japan and fellow Montanan Mike Mansfield:

“Max’s commitment to greater economic opportunity has paid off for Montanans and Americans for decades. As Ambassador, he will have the opportunity to take his passion, his work ethic, and his knowledge to the next level. “With his deep knowledge of China, international trade, and a work ethic that former Montana Senator Mike Mansfield would be proud of, it’s my honor to introduce Max Baucus to your committee today.”

Baucus focused on economic development and the environment during his opening statement during which he also emphasized the importance of the position:

"The United States-China relationship is one of the most important bi-lateral relationships in the world. It will shape global affairs for generations to come; we must get it right. If confirmed I look forward to working with members of this committee and other members of congress to achieve that goal and strengthen ties between our two countries."

Baucus was questioned on a variety of issues regarding trade, human rights, debt and defense. Baucus opponents have singled out the following response to a question by Senator Ron Johnson for ridicule. Johnson asked Baucus what motivated China to initiate the air defense identification zone over a set of islands that are contested by Japan and China and this was Baucus' response:

"Senator, I am no real expert on China, but it is my strong belief that the Chinese people are proud as we Americans are proud."

Sen. John Barasso asked Baucus if he had had conversations with either Montana Governor Steve Bullock or Obama campaign manager (and former Baucus campaign manager) Jim Messina about whom would be nominated to the U.S. Senate in Baucus' stead if appointed. Baucus said "no" to both questions.

The Senate committee is expected to vote on Baucus' nomination next Tuesday. Committee Chairman Robert Menendez told Baucus “I'm sure you will be confirmed” during the hearing.

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