- While Democrats expressed concerns over sexual harassment allegations against the LA mayor’s top aide and 2 GOP senators placed a hold on the nomination, a full vote in the Senate could be delayed until late April.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s confirmation to be U.S. ambassador to India is increasingly looking doubtful. This January, President Biden re-nominated Garcetti, after nominating him last July. The mayor endorsed Biden in the 2020 election and served as co-chair of his presidential campaign, and the nomination is widely seen as a political favor to Garcetti.
The position of U.S. ambassador to India is lying vacant since Biden assumed office on Jan. 20, 2021. However, in May, Biden appointed Daniel B.Smith as the U.S. Charge d’Affaires to India. Ken Juster was the last U.S. ambassador to the country.
On Jan 12, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved Garcetti’s nomination and now awaits confirmation by a full Senate. But the president’s pick is facing resistance not only from the GOP but from a few Democrats as well “over his professed lack of knowledge about sexual assault and harassment allegations against a top adviser,” as reported by Politico. And without full party unity, the Los Angeles mayor might not make it.
During his Senate confirmation hearing on Dec. 14, 2021, Garcetti faced “a relatively brisk confirmation,” news reports said. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) asked Garcetti about the sexual harassment accusations against his former adviser Rick Jacobs, which Garcetti says he had never witnessed. Jacobs has been accused in a lawsuit filed by a Los Angeles Police Department officer.
As he awaits a Senate confirmation, Republican Iowa Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley have both placed a hold on Garcetti’s nomination this month. Grassley told the Los Angeles Times earlier this week that a GOP investigation would delay a vote until late April at the earliest.
Among Democrats, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) is the first lawmaker to publicly raise “concerns” about the sexual harassment allegations surrounding Garcetti, raising the possibility he could oppose Biden’s nominee for ambassador to India. “I have concerns because I’ve seen and heard about the allegations,” Blumenthal told Axios on March 30. “I want to put them to rest if that’s possible before I vote.” He said he is going to talk to some of his colleagues, and added that he hasn’t made “any final conclusion.” Axios notes that “Blumenthal’s added doubts mean Garcetti’s nomination is firmly in limbo — and in danger of suffocating.”
Prior to Blumenthal’s doubts on Garretti, Sens. Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) had voiced their concerns and admitted that they were undecided on their vote for Garcetti’s confirmation. This week, they were joined by Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), who said he “also wanted to review Garcetti’s qualifications,” Axios reported. Kelly spokesperson Jacob Peters told the Arizona Republic, that the senator “has concerns about this nomination based on the serious allegations raised by whistleblowers and is continuing to evaluate it.” Earlier this week, Gillibrand told CNN, that “she knew Garcetti and that she’ll wait to see if the vote is called and make my determination then.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Sinema told Politico that the senator “is doing her due diligence and thoughtfully evaluating the nomination based on her three criteria: whether or not he is professionally qualified, believes in the mission of the agency and can be trusted to faithfully execute and uphold the law.”
Whistleblower Aid, a nonprofit organization, filed a perjury complaint against Garcetti on behalf of Naomi Seligman, a former communications director of the mayor. The group has been reaching out to Democratic and Republican Senate offices, alleging that Garcetti was aware of charges of sexual harassment by one of his top aides and knowingly misrepresented his role in the matter to the Senate. Garcetti and the aide, Rick Jacobs, have denied the allegations. Meanwhile, another Garcetti aide wrote to senators earlier this week, questioning the account raised by Seligman, Politico reported.
India, Russia and Ukraine
These concerns don’t bode well, not just for Garrett, but also for U.S.-India relations. As per Axios, India is a focal point for current U.S. policy. While Biden officials have been frustrated by India’s failure to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Daleep Singh, deputy national security adviser for International Economics and White House point person on Russian sanctions, is currently visiting India. Singh warned India that “there will be consequences for countries that attempt to circumvent the embargoes imposed following the invasion of Ukraine, Hindustan Times reported. Singh also cautioned India against expecting Russia to come to the country’s defense if China were to violate the Line of Actual Control (LAC) since Moscow and Beijing are now in a “no limits partnership,” the report added.
Garcetti still has the administration’s confidence. White House spokesperson Chris Meagher told Politico that“the president has confidence in Mayor Garcetti and believes he’ll be an excellent representative in India.” Noting that Garcetti’s nomination “advanced unanimously with bipartisan support in committee,” she hoped that he “should receive a vote in the Senate expeditiously,” as “the White House and the State Department are making calls to senators and working to earn bipartisan support for his nomination.”
The mayor won reelection in March of 2017 for a five-and-a-half-year term. He is term-limited, and the election for his successor is scheduled for fall 2022. “If he is confirmed by the Senate, the Los Angeles City Council could name an interim mayor to fill the job until a new mayor is elected,” the Los Angeles Times reported.