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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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Journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward on the death of legendary news editor Ben Bradlee.

Journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward on the death of legendary news editor Ben Bradlee.

December 20th, 2013
06:02 PM ET

The politics behind nominating Baucus for ambassador to China

(CNN) - On a policy level Senator Max Baucus, D-Montana, seems an odd choice for America's next ambassador to China.

Baucus doesn't speak Mandarin Chinese, and while he knows about trade issues, he isn't known for a history of ties to the country.

According to The Wall Street Journal, China's citizens took to their version of Twitter to voice concern over how the 72-year-old will fare in the notoriously thick Beijing air. One post quoted by the Journal reads "So old! Don't die in the Beijing smog!"

But clear the smog, and look at this post through the lens of politics: Democrats want to keep control of the Senate in the 2014 midterms. So sending Baucus to China makes perfect sense.

Here's how many senators think this game of musical chairs may play out inside the rotunda:

The six-term lawmaker has already announced he's retiring from the Senate, leaving his seat up for grabs to Republicans in the next election.

Being sent to China means the Democratic Governor of Montana could appoint a fellow Democrat to fill it temporarily, making that Democrat an incumbent, which provides a big leg up for 2014 in terms of fundraising and power.

Baucus is also chair of the powerful finance committee. When he leaves, Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon could take his place, which would leave Wyden's position as chair of the energy committee open, possibly helping another Democrat in 2014.

If the energy committee chairmanship is filled by vulnerable Louisiana Democrat Mary Landreiu, that could also help Democrats in 2014. As energy committee chairwoman, Landrieu would likely see big oil and gas turn on the spigot of campaign cash for her Senate run.

So, when it all shakes out – sending one Democrat to the other side of the planet could be seen as a way to preserve two more in Washington.

As Baucus prepares for his possible assignment in China, perhaps the politicos in Washington should consider the words of Confucius: Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.

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