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Sen. Max Baucus to be nominated ambassador to China

Montana Democrat Max Baucus is known for his key role in crafting Obamacare. His reward: the president will nominate him to be ambassador to China.
Sen. Max Baucus
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., speaks with reporters following a vote in the Senate on May 15, 2013.

Eight months after he announced his retirement from the U.S. Senate, Montana Democrat Max Baucus has found a new job. President Obama is expected to nominate him to be ambassador to China, replacing outgoing ambassador Gary Locke. The White House has not yet publicly announced the decision, although two sources confirmed it to NBC News.

Baucus began in his career in the Senate in 1978, making him one of its longest-serving current members. In late April, he announced that he would not seek re-election in 2014, capping his tenure at six terms. If he is confirmed by the Senate, Baucus will likely exit his seat early, enabling Democratic Governor Steve Bullock to select a replacement.

As a senator, Baucus helped craft and pass the Affordable Care Act. Left-wing critics excoriated the moderate Democrat for his opposition to single-payer health care and his ties to the health care industry. Baucus later said he regretted ruling out a single-payer system so early in the process because it alienated swaths of the left.

A full 28 of Baucus' former employees had become paid lobbyists as of April. As the current chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Baucus is a prime target for lobbyists.

While several of Baucus' colleagues in the Senate embraced his nomination, Sen. John McCain mocked the decision.

"I’m sure he’d do a fine job, he has a long and extensive background on China," he told NBC News, speaking sarcastically.

Making ambassadors out of prominent supporters is a time-honored tradition. In July, an analysis by The Hill found that President Obama had doled out ambassadorships to "at least 19 campaign contributors and political allies."

Two other recent nominees include Caroline Kennedy and Noah Mamet, the son of playwright and filmmaker David Mamet. Both Mamet and Kennedy had financially supported President Obama's 2012 campaign. Mamet is currently ambassador to Argentina, and Kennedy serves as ambassador to Japan.