Democratic officials say President Barack Obama intends to nominate Montana Sen. Max Baucus as ambassador to China.
The nomination is subject to Senate confirmation. The Democrat had announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election. On the Republican side, Congressman Steve Daines is considered the front-runner in the race for Baucus' seat.
The 72-year-old Baucus is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, with jurisdiction over taxes, trade and other areas. He was instrumental in efforts to pass Obama's health care law four years ago and has spent much of this year seeking to build support for a sweeping overhaul of the tax code.
There was no immediate comment from the White House. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to publicly discuss the nomination in advance of Obama's announcement.
Political science expert David Parker said he thinks Baucus would be a great choice for ambassador to China.
"Max Baucus is someone who's been involved in trade issues in the finance committee and definitely someone who's well positioned to jump into this and get a start," Parker explained.
Parker said this next possible step is a big move for the Senator, who was originally planning to retire at the end of his Senate term next year.
"It's definitely a prestigious post to be asked to be ambassador to the country where we have the most support and relationship right now," Parker said, "and one that supports the development over succeeding years. It's the biggest trading partners and biggest holders of American debt, so this is a huge deal for him."
"It will be a great opportunity for Senator Baucus," said David Kendall, with the Missoula County Democratic Party, "and he's done a great job as Senator for the state of Montana. He's really made Washington work for Montanans, and we will be sorry to see him go."
If Obama makes the nomination, the Senate would have to give final approval.
If Baucus is confirmed in 2014, Governor Steve Bullock will get to appoint someone to fill out Baucus' final year. Democrat Lieutenant Governor John Walsh is already running for Baucus' seat, as is former Lieutenant Governor John Bohlinger.
"I think the Governor is between a rock and a hard place," Parker said. "He adores John Walsh -- it would be hard-pressed for him to not appoint John Walsh to that position, but I don't necessarily think it would help him in the election."