Max Baucus and the Big Sky Buy Off

posted at 5:31 pm on December 21, 2013 by Jazz Shaw

Yesterday, Erika brought up the subject of how certain endangered species Democrats – such as Mary Landrieu – might be seeing some possible benefits for themselves from the likely appointment of Max Baucus as the new ambassador to China. But that’s far from the end of the story as we find out more and more about the potential back room deals which could have gone into this selection. Back in Big Sky country, had the situation played out in the normal course of events, there was going to be a very competitive race going on for a certain Senate seat. (And there still will be, no doubt.) But with the presumed exit of Baucus as he heads off to China, the Governor will have the unusual opportunity to temporarily fill the seat, giving a member of his own party a definite leg up in not only the Democratic primary, but potentially in the general election as well.

Montana’s political world grappled Wednesday with a sudden twist in the 2014 race for U.S. Senate – numerous news outlets are reporting that longtime U.S. Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) would leave the Senate early for an ambassadorship in China, leaving Gov. Steve Bullock (D) to appoint his successor, well before voters have a chance to pick one next November.

Bullock’s most obvious choice would be Lt. Gov. John Walsh (D), whom Bullock has already endorsed for the position. Incumbency could give Walsh a possible advantage in both the Democratic primary and the general election, most likely against U.S. Representative Steve Daines (R-MT).

But it may not be so simple, and appointing Walsh could bring its own set of political liabilities.

Plenty of players in Montana politics had an opinion Wednesday evening – almost everyone, it seemed, except the three men closest to the situation: Baucus, Bullock and Walsh.

This is a risky move, even if it was one being pushed – as has been rumored – by Harry Reid, who would like to see John Walsh get a head start in the race. It not only makes it look to the voters of Montana as if the Governor is short sheeting their options, but his own party will have other hopefuls who won’t appreciate being shoved to the back of the line.

Far easier for Governor Bullock, or so it would seem, would be to simply appoint an elder statesman caretaker from his own party with no interest in running for a full term of their own. This would remove the appearance of him having his thumb on the scale and allowing the voters their full say. This opinion, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, is echoed by a former congressman from the Governor’s own party, Pat Williams.

“My own thinking is that he should not appoint one of those candidates, because that would be like favoring them, for both the June primary, as well as the November election next year. I think he ought to appoint somebody who would just be a place holder,” Williams said.

While Senator Baucus wouldn’t confirm reports that he is about to be nominated by President Obama to be U.S. Ambassador to China, his spokeswoman said Baucus would be a natural for the job.

Senate politics is a chess match that never ends, and Harry Reid does his best to keep his fingers on all the pieces. We should also remember that this is hardly the first time that an Obama appointment has had “coincidental” side benefits in the political arena, often with the help and advice of the Democrats’ Senate and House leadership. The last time Barack Obama sent someone off to China – John Huntsman – it was widely considered to have political implications. We could be seeing a pattern here.

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rottenrobbie on December 21, 2013 at 5:37 PM

Orwell and Machiavelli laugh their azzes off.

The thugs imagine that all the voters are stupid.

May they all burn.

Schadenfreude on December 21, 2013 at 5:38 PM

I remember the good old days when Christie was set to appoint a potential Republican candidate for Senate to Lautenberg’s seat in a deep blue state and the Democrats were complaining about how it was undemocratic to not pick a Democrat.

blammm on December 21, 2013 at 5:38 PM

I hope that R’s run the table on November 4, 2014. Then I hope the R’s have the intestinal fortitude to tell Obunghole BITE ME, WE WON! Howz that grab ya Mr. Prez-nit? wit?

rottenrobbie on December 21, 2013 at 5:47 PM

I wouldn’t imagine that anything Dingy Harry Reid wanted would be all that popular up in Montana.

trigon on December 21, 2013 at 5:49 PM

It’s not like Ambassador to China is an important post. Obama might as well play politics with this appointment like he did with the appointment of Caroline Kennedy as Ambassador to Japan.

Our interests in the Far East are in good hands with a retired pork barrel politician and a Kennedy princess.

kcewa on December 21, 2013 at 5:52 PM

And as Baroness Emmuska Orczy’s Marguerite lamented: “I see now what begins as a dream can end as a nightmare. Some causes can become warped and twisted, like some men”.

VorDaj on December 21, 2013 at 6:03 PM

Everything this Administration, and it’s Senate lackey, Dingy Harry, does is entirely, completely, inescapably, definitely, and utterly based on political and ideological considerations.

If it’s not best for Dingy Harry or Barack Obama, then it is not considered as important enough for action…which tells the American people exactly the level of contempt that those people hold them in.

Athos on December 21, 2013 at 6:04 PM

Senate politics is a chess match that never ends, and Harry Reid does his best to keep his fingers on all the pieces.

…our guys…can’t even play checkers!

KOOLAID2 on December 21, 2013 at 6:04 PM

America is now just a third world country with a first world standard of living remaining … … for now anyway.

VorDaj on December 21, 2013 at 6:04 PM

…our guys…can’t even play checkers!

KOOLAID2 on December 21, 2013 at 6:04 PM

The can play hide and seek well though. At least the hide part anyway.

VorDaj on December 21, 2013 at 6:06 PM

As for that Reid Wackobird, he was suddenly hospitalized after the Redskins told him to pound sand when he said that they should change the redskin name. Stinky Hairy is not used to being told “no”. He is like his bud Barack, a lowlife dictator.

mobydutch on December 21, 2013 at 6:09 PM

So, Obama sees that Baucus can’t win and will send him to China for a better chance of a Donk taking the seat? Another Obama lie; this one being the abandoning of politics as usual. See, all we have to do is take whatever a Donk says and believe the opposite, and we can tell exactly how they’ll act.

HiJack on December 21, 2013 at 6:30 PM

Preznit O’Barky claimed that as “a typical white person” Max could ambassify perfectly and will learn to speak Asian in no time.”

viking01 on December 21, 2013 at 6:49 PM

…our guys…can’t even play checkers!

KOOLAID2 on December 21, 2013 at 6:04 PM

They seem to play Candyass Land very well.

arnold ziffel on December 21, 2013 at 6:49 PM

They seem to play Candyass Land very well.

arnold ziffel on December 21, 2013 at 6:49 PM

…I’m glad to see you back regularly piggy!

KOOLAID2 on December 21, 2013 at 7:11 PM

this won’t matter. baucus the rummy was not going to run again anyway and high tailing it to China may save him the humiliation of seeing his masterpiece Obamacare decompose before his eyes but be preserved for the gov’s appointee who will be a democrat.

gracie on December 21, 2013 at 7:48 PM

MeanWhile from State Departments Fridays Breifing:

Jen Psaki
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 20, 2013

Index for Today’s Briefing


Senator Baucus Nomination / Commitment to U.S.-China Relationship


1:25 p.m. EST

QUESTION: Yes. On China?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: President Obama nominated the new ambassador to China (inaudible) Senator Baucus.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So what do you think about this nomination?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know the White House obviously made that announcement, and the President put out a pretty clear statement reiterating Senator Baucus’ commitment to deepening the relationship between the United States and China for nearly two decades, his work on economic agreements that have helped create millions of American jobs and added billions of dollars to our economy, and just his commitment to the region.

He also, just to give you more – a little more history on Senator Baucus, he has visited China eight times. He’s also hosted a myriad of senior Chinese diplomats in Washington and Montana for numerous trade delegations. He’s led the U.S. effort in the 1990s to bring China into the WTO and to establish PNTR, policies from which both countries have benefited enormously. He’s also continually worked to bring down trade barriers between the United States and China, and he’s insisted that China play by internationally accepted rules regarding currency, intellectual property, labor, human rights, and the environment.

So clearly, both the President, as is evidenced by his announcement, and certainly the Secretary of State, who has worked with him for decades, think he will be an excellent choice.

All right. Oh, go ahead, Deb.

canopfor on December 21, 2013 at 8:34 PM

Isn’t it Jon Huntsman, not John? Good analysis, though!

lizzieillinois on December 21, 2013 at 10:36 PM

Max called Obamcare a “trainwreck.”
Of course he would be sent to China.

shorebird on December 22, 2013 at 1:34 AM

The Obama/Reid strategy is a sound one which has worked in the past. The wild card is always state politics, and Montana is a hard state to figure.

Baucus was not a flaming liberal for most of his tenure and kept his seat for a long time in a state that just doesn’t go for national Democrats. But they also elected and reelected Jon Tester, who is an Obama liberal and was known as such in the state legislature.

So it’s hard to say if there would be much of a backlash by appointing a candidate for the seat instead of a caretaker. But for Democrats, the risk of losing an open contest seems greater than trying to have an incumbent, even an appointed one in the seat.

In any world that makes sense, a state with Montana’s situation, history, and population would have two Republican Senators forever, yet they have two Democrats who vote with Reid and Obama down the line. Go figure.

Adjoran on December 22, 2013 at 1:34 AM

Gotta get Baucus out of country before the tar and feathers come out over O’Care.

Here is a winner of a candidate running, I think he needs to reread the Democratic Charter. Dirk Adams – “I think Democrats have been better at just leaving people alone, at recognizing their independence.”

MH53J on December 22, 2013 at 2:20 AM

Don’t mess with Montana. We don’t like outsiders coming in and telling us what to do, unless you’re a lib and live in town. Daines would make a great senator.

Kissmygrits on December 22, 2013 at 9:13 AM

Are there any tapes where the governor talks about how much political donations he wants for the seat? It is the Chicago way, no?

platypus on December 22, 2013 at 9:57 AM

This is the new Democrat trick. Hickenlooper did it with a state Senator in Colorado who was going to be recalled over her gun control vote and who’s loss would have flipped our senate to republican. It’s how they will cling to power to keep the voters from having their say.

COgirl on December 22, 2013 at 10:53 AM

And as Baroness Emmuska Orczy’s Marguerite lamented: “I see now what begins as a dream can end as a nightmare. Some causes can become warped and twisted, like some men”.

VorDaj on December 21, 2013 at 6:03 PM

But where is there a Sir Percy to help Marguerite atone for her mistakes?

Kevin K. on December 22, 2013 at 11:59 AM

Another advantage for the administration is that they can blame the disloyal Baucus for things that go wrong with China, as inevitably, they will.

virgo on December 22, 2013 at 2:09 PM

It is called “cutting and running”, Max. Facing certain defeat in the election, he chose to make a deal with Obama for the China job. At age 72, isn’t it time to retire some of the ones entrenched in politics?

Amazingoly on December 22, 2013 at 3:02 PM

I think a great political commercial can be made in LA and Montana that goes something like this-

Reid to Obama: We are in trouble in the Senate. I have a great idea- Why don’t you appoint Max Ambassador to China? He is asking too many questions about Obamacare and we need to get him off of the Banking committee.

Obama-Sounds good to me.

Reid to Obama- We then get our Democratic Governor in Montana to appoint our Dem. candidate to the Senate thereby saving Max’s seat for the Democrats in 2014.

Obama- Sounds Great!

Reid to Obama- Wait- that’s not the best part- We can move Wyden to Banking and free up Landrieu in Louisiana to take over the Energy Committee thereby saving her seat in Lousiana as well. They will lap that up in Louisiana-

Reid to Obama- This is a slam-dunk. The voters won’t be any the wiser.

Obama- Well one thing’s for sure, we know the voters are geniuses. It gives me two more votes to save Obamacare for the country and the rest of my agenda for the next two years.

jake22 on December 22, 2013 at 4:19 PM

In Massachusetts when that happens and there is a republican governor, the legislature changes the laws midstream so that they can control who gets the office, and the republican governor, let’s say, Romney doesn’t get to choose an appointee.

Change the rules, don’t let that democrat gov appoint a democrat. Anyway, that’ll larn ya for voting for a democrat for governor, whatever possessed them in Montana? Was there a pot referendum on the ballot?

Fleuries on December 23, 2013 at 9:23 AM

It’s not a matter of thinking Baucus would lose and so finding another place for him – he had already decided and announced many months ago that he wasn’t running again.

But the implications for the senate race — what had been an open-seat race — are interesting.

Walsh is really a political newcomer. He is the Lt. Gov., but had not been in politics before. And in MT the Lt. Gov. runs on the same ticket with the Gov., so he’s never ran for office except as someone’s running mate. So, putting him in the senate for several months before the election might give him some experience that could be helpful. But, on the other hand, it would also require him to take some unpopular votes before November. He currently has zero voting record of any kind to defend. It might not help him too much to develop one.

Also, there are other candidates besides Walsh already running for the Democratic senate nomination. One of them is Schweitzer’s former Lt. Gov.

The place-holder appointment might be the safest route for Gov. Bullock. Especially if he can arrange a deal where the placeholder would agree to resign before Janaury 2015 in the event the D wins in 2014, so that the new person could be appointed after the election and still gain a seniority advantage over the other new freshmen.

acasilaco on December 23, 2013 at 5:00 PM