Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez plans to take up the nomination of fellow Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., to be the next ambassador to China as quickly as possible — maybe even before the chamber's next recess.
The New Jersey Democrat said he had not received the paperwork from the White House on the Baucus nomination, which President Barack Obama announced before Christmas. The Baucus nomination was one of several on a list transmitted from the White House to Capitol Hill that was released Tuesday afternoon.
"As soon as we receive it, we're looking forward to an expeditious process. We'll review his file as we do every nominee. We share that file with the Republican ranking member," Menendez said, "It would be my hope to have a hearing expeditiously [with] Sen. Baucus, who has spent a whole life in public life so everything about him is pretty much known."
Menendez has long served with Baucus on the Finance Committee. He said he was not sure how the nomination of that panel's chairman would affect the Finance schedule in the coming weeks.
Asked by CQ Roll Call if the hearing or markup could come before the Senate's scheduled to leave for recess the week of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Menendez called that "a very aggressive schedule."
"If I could accomplish it, I would, because I think this is an incredibly important post for the United States to fill," Menendez said. "This is a critical country in terms of our national interests and national security. Two weeks might be a little aggressive, but we're going to try to do everything we can."
The Foreign Relations panel will work through the usual process for the Baucus nomination, albeit on an expedited timetable, meaning that there are a couple of steps in the legislative process before the Montana Democrat faces a vote on the floor that would lead to his departure from the Senate. Baucus' departure will also set off musical chairs among Senate Democrats, with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., on track to be the next chairman of the Finance Committee.
That procedure will start with a customary nomination hearing.
"The subject would be the views about China, both on trade on non-trade issues — human rights, democracy, security and what not, and I'm sure he'll do excellently well and then we would have a business meeting after that. So, as soon as we actually physically get the file, we'll start the clock rolling," Menendez said.
At that point, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., would be able to take up the nomination on the floor. While it's too soon to tell if there would be a roll call vote on the Baucus nomination, the Senate confirmed the outgoing ambassador to China, Gary Locke, to the post by unanimous consent in 2011.