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Huntsman hearing set for Thursday

Published: Friday, July 17 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Jon Huntsman

Mike Mergen, Bloomberg News

The confirmation hearing for Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to become ambassador to China is scheduled for next Thursday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

That should allow the full Senate to confirm him before its annual, monthlong summer recess begins Aug. 7. If Huntsman is confirmed, he would resign as governor and Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert would assume that post. Plans for Herbert's inauguration are already under way.

Huntsman has plenty of previous experience before the Senate in confirmation hearings. He held ambassador rank twice previously, once as the ambassador to Singapore and once as an assistant in the U.S. Trade Representative's office working with trade in Asia.

As a Republican nominee by a Democratic president, Huntsman is not expected to face any major opposition. He speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, learned for a mission to Taiwan for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He and his wife, Mary Kaye, adopted a daughter from China.

As governor, Huntsman also led a Utah trade mission to China during his first term.

President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Huntsman in a joint appearance at the White House on May 16, but the actual nomination was not made until July 6, when the formal paperwork was submitted to the Senate.

"When the president asks you to step up to serve your nation in such a capacity and at such an important time in world history, it is the end of the conversation and the beginning of an obligation," Huntsman said when he appeared with Obama in May. "It is in the spirit of placing country before self or politics that I have accepted the request and nomination by President Obama, and with the consent of the United State Senate, to serve as United States Ambassador to China."

Since Obama announced his intent to nominate Huntsman, the governor has assumed a low profile and allowed Herbert to be the main public face of his administration. Huntsman has also spent time in Washington attending policy briefings and meeting with senators who will consider his nomination.

Nominees to any federal position routinely say little publicly while their nomination is pending, but Huntsman likely will be asked to say much in detail next Thursday about where the United States may be heading in its relations with China.

Huntsman would be the second elected governor in Utah in a row to resign midterm to accept a big federal post. In 2003, then Gov. Mike Leavitt resigned to join President George W. Bush's cabinet as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and later became his secretary of Health and Human Services.

e-mail: lee@desnews.com

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