Just a day after Governor Branstad met with President-Elect Donald Trump the news is now official. Branstad has accepted an invitation to become U.S. Ambassador to China.
Officials from both parties are weighing in. Now the speculation begins on the political ramifications of Branstad leaving office.
A spokesman for the Trump transition team said it’s Branstad’s experience in public policy, trade, and agriculture that won him the job.
Former Iowa Democratic Governor and now soon-to-be-retiring USDA secretary Tom Vilsack says Branstad should be good at opening up trade of U.S. products with China.
“He's a promoter and that's what ambassadors do,” Vilsack said. “They make sure that if there are barriers or problems to getting American made products and goods into a country, they work to make a difference."
Some say Iowa exports in particular could benefit.
But Branstad and Trump have differed on trade issues, and Vilsack says the Chinese are tough negotiating partners.
An expert on U.S. China relations says the choice of Branstad makes sense.
“With China importing more and more agricultural goods from the U.S. and Iowa it looks like a reasonable pick for the incoming Trump administration,” said ISU Political Science Professor Jonathan Hassid. “Branstad is not an ideological firebrand in any way.”
The news of Branstad’s appointment was greeted warmly by the Chinese government.
“We welcome him to play a greater role in advancing the development of China-U.S. relations,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang in a briefing with Reuters.
"The President-elect understands my unique relationship to China and has asked me to serve in a way I had not previously considered,” Governor Branstad said in a statement.
Iowa Evangelical leader Bob VanderPlaats called Branstad a great choice for the job. Iowa Democratic Party Chair Andy McGuire called the position an incredibly important post to take.
Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann’s response was more personal.
“He’s been a wonderful supporter and friend,” Kaufmann said. “So there's a really selfish side of me that' sorry to see him moving thousands and thousands of miles away.”
Kaufmann praised First Lady Chris Branstad’s role in the decision.
“It does not surprise me that Mrs. Branstad would in the end one more time allow her husband,” Kaufmann said, “And also the wife of an ambassador is very important as well.”
Now Kaufmann says the focus turns to Iowa’s next chief executive, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds.
“We’re going to obviously have a new governor,” Kaufmann said. “There’ll be a new governing style.”
Kaufmann expects a continuation of the Branstad administration’s policies under a new Reynolds administration. He says it’s not clear when Branstad will step down. His ambassadorship won’t be official until he’s confirmed by the U.S. Senate sometime after president-elect Trump is sworn into office.
But officials say the contest to be Reynolds’s new lieutenant governor may already be underway.
“And I think that everybody is going to have their own approach in terms of how they let her know they are interested,” said former Branstad communications director Tim Albrecht. “But it will be her choice.”
Jeff Kaufmann says it was not the plan all along for Branstad to leave office early so Reynolds could run as an incumbent in 2018.
“I have zero doubt in my mind that that discussion never took place,” Kaufmann said. “I do not believe that they took place.
“I believe the governor at face value,” Kaufmann said.
Iowa Democrats now face different prospects for a 2018 race with Branstad out of the picture.
On the Republican side, U.S. Rep. Steve King told the Washington based publication the Hill he’s considering his options on running.
“The thought is in my mind,” King said.
Kaufmann says Reynolds will have 100% of the party behind her if she runs for re-election in 2018.