Eric Garcetti, the former mayor of Los Angeles, was confirmed on Wednesday as the nation’s next ambassador to India, 20 months after he was first nominated by Joe Biden and after weathering doubts about his truthfulness in a sexual harassment scandal involving a top adviser during his time at City Hall.
The 52-42 vote in a divided Senate gave the administration a long-sought victory in filling one of the country’s highest-profile diplomatic posts.
The president “believes that we have a crucial and consequential partnership with India and that Mayor Garcetti will make a strong and effective ambassador,” said a White House spokesperson, Olivia Dalton, after the vote.
The session began with uncertain prospects for Garcetti, a two-term, progressive Democrat first nominated to the prominent diplomatic post by Biden in July 2021.
With several Democratic defections, Garcetti’s fate rested with enlisting Republicans in a chamber often divided along partisan lines. He secured seven GOP votes to advance the nomination to a final vote.
The Republican senator Susan Collins of Maine said, “I met with him personally. He clearly has an enormous amount of expertise about India. India’s been two years without an ambassador, and that is far too long. And I am going to support him.”
The vacancy in the ambassadorship has left a significant diplomatic gap for the administration at a time of rising global tensions, including China’s increasingly assertive presence in the Pacific region and Russia’s war with Ukraine.
India, the world’s most populous democracy, is continuing to buy oil from Russia, while western governments move to limit fossil fuel earnings that support Moscow’s budget, its military and its invasion of Ukraine. Russia also provides the majority of India’s military hardware.
The nomination has been freighted with questions about what the former mayor knew, and when, about sexual harassment allegations against his friend and once-close adviser, Rick Jacobs. A lawsuit alleges that Jacobs frequently harassed one of the then-mayor’s police bodyguards while Garcetti ignored the abuse or laughed it off.
Garcetti, the son of the former Los Angeles district attorney Gil Garcetti, has repeatedly denied the claims. Jacobs has called the allegations against him “pure fiction”. The case is scheduled to go to trial later this year.
At a Senate committee hearing in December 2021, Garcetti said, “I never witnessed, nor was it brought to my attention, the behavior that’s been alleged … If it had been, I would have immediately taken action to stop that.”
Wednesday’s vote tested Democratic loyalty to Biden, and also measured assessments of Garcetti’s judgment and trustworthiness, stemming from the City Hall allegations that shadowed him in the #MeToo era.
“I think we can find somebody that will do the job better,” said Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, one of the Democrats who signaled opposition to Garcetti.
Garcetti also failed to win over Democrat Mark Kelly of Arizona, who said he had “serious concerns”.
Garcetti’s confirmation follows a contentious tenure at Los Angeles City Hall framed by the twin crises of homelessness and the pandemic, rising crime rates and sexual harassment and corruption scandals. The Los Angeles area, once known for boundless growth, has seen its population decline.
The former mayor, who took office in 2013, has been credited with continuing a transit buildup in a city choked with traffic, and establishing tougher earthquake safety standards for thousands of buildings.
An Ivy Leaguer and Rhodes scholar, he spent two decades in city government either as mayor or a city councilman and took a circuitous path toward the diplomatic corps. Ambassadorships are frequently a reward for political supporters.
Garcetti considered a 2020 White House run but later became part of Biden’s inner circle, emerging as a widely discussed possibility to join Biden’s cabinet. He took himself out of the running after many of the plum jobs had been filled, saying the coronavirus crisis at the time made it impossible for him to step away from City Hall.
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