Senate on track to confirm Iowa governor as China envoy

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WASHINGTON — The nation’s longest serving governor is on track to win Senate confirmation as President Donald Trump’s ambassador to China.

The Senate is slated to vote late Monday on Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s nomination, clearing the way for him to hold the key diplomatic post. Among Branstad’s most immediate and sensitive assignments will be persuading the Chinese to help defuse North Korea’s advancing ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.

During his confirmation hearing earlier this month, Branstad assured lawmakers that he would not shy away from confronting Beijing on a range of issues, including human rights and trade.

Branstad, 70, told lawmakers he intends to use his decades-long relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping to advance U.S. and international interests. The two met in 1985 when Xi, then a provincial official, led an agricultural trade delegation to Iowa.

Republicans and Democrats have praised Branstad’s Midwestern pragmatism. Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, declared Branstad “fully qualified” for the job. Branstad cleared a Senate procedural hurdle last week, 86-12, underscoring the broad support he has from both parties.

Branstad called North Korea’s push for a weapon of mass destruction a “threat to all of humankind.” He said he expected China to become more engaged because of concerns that North Korean refugees may flood China if the crisis on the Korean Peninsula escalates further.

Branstad is in his sixth nonconsecutive term as governor. He served from 1983 to 1999 before entering the private sector. He was re-elected in 2010. He has been at the helm of Iowa government for more than 22 years.