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DES MOINES — On his 8,167th day as the nation's longest-serving governor, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad easily won confirmation Monday as the next ambassador to China and will resign Wednesday to clear the way for his lieutenant to assume the top job.
U.S. senators voted 82-13 to approve President Donald Trump's nomination of the Republican governor to the serve as America's representative in one of the world's most powerful nations.
Branstad's nomination was backed by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who called him 'the right person for the job' and by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said 'he's been a champion for Iowa.'
The six-term Branstad, who served as Iowa's 39th governor from 1983-99 and now as its 42nd governor since returning in 2011, said he will turn over state executive duties to Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds before embarking on his assignment.
Once he resigns, Branstad, 70, will be sworn in as ambassador.
Shortly after, Reynolds will be sworn in as governor for the remainder of his term in a ceremony at the Capitol in Des Moines. The position is up for election in 2018.
That will end the nation's longest stint ever by a governor of any state, Branstad noted, adding that 'time flies when you're having fun.' It also will mark the first time Iowa has had a female governor.
'It's going to be an exciting adventure to serve our country in a very important part of the world,' Branstad, wearing a red tie made in China, told reporters after presiding Monday over his last Iowa Executive Council — a group made up of the governor, state treasurer, state auditor, state agriculture secretary and the secretary of state. 'I intend to continue to work hard right up until the end.'
After the Senate vote, Branstad thanked Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for the nomination and the Senate for the confidence it placed in him.
Read more on Branstad's legacy as Iowa's record-breaking governor.
'Never in my wildest dreams did I think that a boy from a small farm in Leland, Iowa, would one day have the opportunity to represent my country and my state on the world stage, working closely with one of the world's most influential countries and one of America's largest trading partners,' Branstad said in a statement.
'None of this would have been possible without the dedicated love and support of my wife, Chris, and my family.'
Reynolds congratulated Branstad — her mentor since January 2011 —— on his 'new mission' as ambassador, calling him 'a man with a servant heart' who has worked tirelessly on behalf of Iowans.
'He is uniquely qualified and is the right person for the right time, and we are proud to have him take our Iowa values to the world stage,' she said in a statement.
Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey called Branstad's departure 'bitter sweet' but said the council was excited for the governor's new opportunity and the prospects for expanding trade in a key region.
Earlier this month. Branstad sailed through a two-hour session with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee without the acrimony seen in hearings for other Trump nominees.
Responding to that committee's questions about trade, North Korea, intellectual property rights, human rights, fentanyl and other topics, Branstad often drew parallels to his experience as governor.
Branstad has led six trade missions to China as governor and developed an enduring friendship with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Though he had won praise from Democrats and Republicans alike at the committee level, 13 senators — all Democrats — voted Monday against his confirmation.
'Having served as the governor of Iowa for more than two decades, Branstad has developed a strong understanding of agriculture, trade, and other key national interests,' Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday on the Senate floor. 'His experience on these issues will guide him as he works to strengthen our relationship with China and pursue trade policies that can benefit American workers and businesses.'
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., supported his nomination, telling colleagues Monday he was 'extremely impressed' by Branstad during the hearing process.
Branstad said he and his wife plan to maintain their home on Lake Panorama and are in the process of sorting and packing things that will either go there or to China.
'She's kind of been the lead person on that, but I've been helping,' Branstad said. 'She's a thrower and I'm a saver, let's put it that way, but that's always been the case. I have a tendency not want to throw anything away.'
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James Q. Lynch of The Gazette contributed to this report.