UPDATED: It’s official: Branstad heads to China

President-elect Donald Trump welcomes Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad to the stage in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. — photo by Zak Neumann

UPDATE: Branstad will resign on Wednesday, May 24, at 10 a.m. in the governor’s formal office at the Iowa State Capitol Building in Des Moines. He will then be sworn in as U.S. ambassador to the People’s Republic of China. Reynolds will then take the oath of office out in the capitol building rotunda and deliver her first address as governor of Iowa.

Months after his initial nomination, Gov. Terry Branstad is officially closing the door on his tenure as the longest-serving governor in the U.S. and will jet off to his new position as ambassador to China.

Branstad released a statement following today’s vote thanking President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for nominating him, and the Senate for approving his nomination.

“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,” he said in the statement.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, who gave a speech before the Senate vote, took the time to first express his “disappointment and frustration with the seemingly endless obstruction on the part of the minority” in the Senate. He then praised Branstad for his more than 22 years as Iowa’s governor and praised his long-time connection with China, including his friendship with China’s President Xi Jinping.

Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds will take up the role of governor following Branstad’s exit. Reynolds served as a state senator and county treasurer before being elected lieutenant governor in 2010. In his statement, Branstad praised Reynolds, saying he was “leaving Iowa in great hands.”

Although the Iowa Attorney General’s Office initially indicated that Reynolds could select an incoming lieutenant governor, that stance was reversed by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller’s formal opinion earlier this month.

Miller stated that the lieutenant governor can become governor, but does not have the legal authority to appoint a new lieutenant governor. Instead, the two offices — governor and lieutenant governor — simply merge into one. Formal opinions aren’t legally binding, but are generally respected until overturned by a court decision, new legislation or a later opinion.

During a recent interview in the Des Moines Register, Reynolds declined to say whether she would follow that opinion or would appoint a new lieutenant governor anyway, saying that a full reveal would wait until Branstad had been confirmed.

Reynolds released a statement of her own on Monday, but did not indicate any future plans. Rather she limited her comments to a message of congratulations.

“For over 22 years, Iowans have had a man with a servant heart working tirelessly on their behalf and for a state he loves dearly,” she said in the statement. “His heart to serve has led him to accept a new calling, to serve our state and our country as Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China. 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.”

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