The Senate has easily approved the nomination of longtime Sen. Max Baucus as the next U.S. ambassador to China.

Thursday's 96-0 vote hands the job to the moderate Democrat from Montana. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the 72-year-old Baucus is a veteran of U.S. trade policy, though he has little expertise on military and other issues that have strained relations with Beijing.

Baucus was a leading author of President Barack Obama's health care law. But he has also vexed fellow Democrats by helping Republicans pass bills like President George W. Bush's 2001 tax cuts.

Baucus' early Senate departure could help Democrats retain his seat. His state's Democratic governor is expected to appoint a Democrat to replace him, potentially giving that person a leg up in November's elections.