Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama is planning to nominate Sen. Max Baucus as U.S. ambassador to China, a Democratic official told CNN.
The Montana Democrat is retiring from Congress.
A longtime Baucus friend and confidante speaking on condition of anonymity told CNN's John King the Senator informed him directly that the China appointment was true. A spokesman for Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican and a close friend of Baucus, confirmed to CNN's Paul Steinhauser that Hatch told the Washington Post that Baucus is the ambassadorial pick.
Baucus, 72, the six-term lawmaker and chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, had no comment when asked about the appointment.
Politico first reported the news.
Baucus would assume the job at a time when relations between the United States and China are at a delicate stage. Tensions have risen in recent weeks over China’s decision to expand an airspace security zone in the East China Sea.
If confirmed, Baucus would replace former Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, who announced last month that he would leave to spend more time with his family. Locke took over for Jon Huntsman, who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for president in 2012.
The move would alter Baucus' presumed plan to exit the political sphere. He said in April that he would not seek reelection in 2014, drawing to a close a congressional career that spans four decades and six presidential administrations.
Baucus swatted away the speculation when asked to confirm if he was indeed the Obama administration's choice for the Beijing job.
"It's not for me to comment on speculating," Baucus told CNN congressional producer Ted Barrett. "And I'm not going to. I'm not confirming."
Baucus said there wasn’t a “better job” than representing Montana in the Senate.
There would also be no special election to replace Baucus if he leaves before his term is up at the end of 2014. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, could name a caretaker to fill the seat or allow Baucus' desk to remain unattended until the 2014 midterms.
CNN's Kevin Liptak, John King, and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.