The Obama administration officially announced Friday that retiring Montana Democrat Max Baucus will be nominated to be the next ambassador to China, making official one of the worst kept secrets in Washington.
Republicans suggested after the news broke on Wednesday that Baucus would have a clear path to confirmation.
Despite the leak, the White House remained firm in not officially confirming the allegation. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Thursday that he had no personnel announcements.
But when asked, Carney touted Baucus's experience, including a strong engagement in the U.S.-China relationship. He qualified those statements though, adding that it "just happens to occur to me" --receiving a mixture of laughter and comments of disbelief from members of the White House press corps.
President Obama noted Baucus' experience in the announcement, saying that if the Montana Democrat is confirmed he will be "perfectly suited to build" on economic agreements he helped forge between the two countries as a member of the Senate.
Baucus's nomination comes as the United States shifts its foreign policy focus from the Middle East to Asia. The two countries have seen an increase in tensions recently because of China's new air defense zone, including a near collision between two ships earlier this month. Secretary of State Chuck Hagel said on Thursday that China's actions in the incident were "unhelpful."