Senate Confirms Garcetti as Ambassador to India, Capping a Two-Year Fight (2023)


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Despite concerns among some Democrats about claims that the former Los Angeles mayor condoned sexual harassment by an aide, several Republicans supported him, saving his confirmation from collapse.

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By Annie Karni and Shawn Hubler

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Eric Garcetti, the former mayor of Los Angeles, to be the U.S. ambassador to India, ending a two-year saga that left a top diplomatic post vacant amid allegations that he mishandled workplace misconduct and sexual harassment.

Mr. Garcetti was confirmed by a vote of 52 to 42, with a few Democratic senators who had expressed deep reservations voting “no” but several more Republicans voting in favor of moving forward, effectively saving Mr. Garcetti’s bid from collapse.

It was a victory for President Biden, who stuck by his political ally in the face of the allegations and the prolonged process that has left the United States without a permanent envoy in one of the world’s most populous and geopolitically important democracies.

“The United States-India relationship is extremely important,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said after a test vote earlier on Wednesday. “It’s a very good thing we now have an ambassador.” He offered no specific praise for Mr. Garcetti.

Mr. Garcetti, who dropped a presidential exploratory bid in 2019 to become an early backer of Mr. Biden’s campaign, had been on the shortlist for a number of cabinet posts before the president nominated him to be the ambassador to India.

But his nomination languished amid a Republican blockade of Mr. Biden’s Senate-confirmed nominees. It sank further after Senate Republicans produced an investigative report last year that found “numerous credible allegations from multiple whistle-blowers” of misconduct by a top aide to Mr. Garcetti, and asserted that “it is more likely than not that Mayor Garcetti either had personal knowledge of the sexual harassment or should have been aware of it.”

Mr. Garcetti has consistently denied the accusations, and the White House has dismissed them as partisan attacks, but they effectively stalled action in the Senate, leaving Mr. Garcetti’s fate up in the air. The nomination died at the end of the last Congress, and in January, Mr. Biden renominated Mr. Garcetti.

In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Garcetti said he never considered withdrawing his name from contention and that Mr. Biden had encouraged him to stay the course, despite the delays.

“I had check-ins with the president, and he was 100 percent behind me,” Mr. Garcetti said. “They said, ‘We believe in you and we want you here.’ They said, ‘It’s going to take some hard work, but we think you should serve.’”

In recent days, Mr. Garcetti’s nomination appeared to have picked up momentum. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week approved it with the support of two Republicans, Senators Todd Young of Indiana and Bill Hagerty of Tennessee. Mr. Garcetti and his allies were optimistic that the precarious nomination was moving in the right direction.

But resistance remained among most Republicans, and as a vote of the full Senate approached, some Democrats voiced concerns.

Speaking at a fund-raiser in Nevada on Tuesday night, Mr. Biden called it an “important vote.” White House officials had been reaching out to senators to press Mr. Garcetti’s case, in an attempt to put him over the top in what they expected to be a close vote.

In those calls, Mr. Biden’s team underscored his qualifications and the fact he had twice been approved in committee votes on a bipartisan basis, according to White House officials. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle asked the White House about the accusations facing Mr. Garcetti. The White House made Mr. Garcetti available to some members for one-on-one conversations. On Capitol Hill, Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, served as one of Mr. Garcetti’s main allies securing votes on his behalf.

On Wednesday, seven Republicans joined most Democrats in supporting him, while three Democrats — Senators Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Mark Kelly of Arizona — broke with the party to oppose him. The backing of the Republicans — Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, Steve Daines of Montana, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Mr. Hagerty and Mr. Young — was enough for the nomination to advance.

Mr. Garcetti’s allies said they were happy to have the divisive fight over his nomination over with.

“This whole delay has hurt our ability to deepen our strategic partnership with India,” said Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, a co-chair of the Congressional India Caucus. “I am looking forward to working with Eric to strengthen our ties to India at a time we face Putin’s war and heightened tensions with Xi Jinping.”

Mr. Garcetti himself was never accused of misconduct. But a former member his security detail, who has sued the city, accused his former deputy chief of staff of sexual harassment. The officer and a second former city employee, who served as communications director, said that Rick Jacobs, a prominent Democratic fund-raiser in the Los Angeles gay community and top mayoral adviser, had made sexual remarks and gestures and had acted inappropriately toward subordinates. They claimed that Mr. Garcetti had known and had failed to act on complaints about it.

In the days leading up to the vote, another person who claimed to have been harassed and assaulted by Mr. Jacobs shared personal stories with the chiefs of staff of Democratic and Republican senators. The person insisted on anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Those conversations appeared to have swayed some senators. Ms. Hirono had previously indicated she planned to support Mr. Garcetti. But on Wednesday she said in a statement that “earlier this week I received additional information that, when taken in its totality with the information already available, has led me to be a ‘no’ on Mr. Garcetti’s nomination.”

Mr. Garcetti has said that he “never witnessed” the alleged harassment, and that none of those incidents were ever brought to his attention. He added that, had he known, he would have acted to stop it because addressing abuse in the workplace is “a core issue” for him.

But the nomination hit a snag when Naomi Seligman, his former communications director, began publicly pressing to hold him accountable for alleged misconduct in his office and Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, released the 23-page report detailing sexual harassment allegations against Mr. Garcetti’s former aide and the likelihood that Mr. Garcetti knew or should have been aware.

“Senators on both sides of the aisle have seen extensive credible evidence that Mr. Garcetti enabled a sexual predator at City Hall for years and lied about it in his confirmation hearing,” Ms. Seligman said in a statement. “If it weren’t for political pressure from the White House, this nomination would never reach the Senate floor.”

The White House called the report “partisan” and “a hit job from the beginning,” adding that “many of the claims have already been conclusively debunked by more serious independent reports.” Mr. Garcetti’s parents — his father is a former Los Angeles County district attorney — spent at least $90,000 on a lobbyist to defend him.

Mr. Garcetti said Wednesday that the process was “a long road, but a great destination,” noting that he studied Hindi in college and that as mayor he worked with his Indian counterparts “on everything from energy to ports to culture and urbanization.”

He added: “I think I was in tears at the end. There were times it was trying, but I always understood the political process takes time.”

Of the claims that he mishandled harassment and abuse in his office, he said, “Repeating untruths doesn’t make them true.”

Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting.


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