How former LA mayor Eric Garcetti got his job as ambassador to India
It took nearly two years, but former Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti finally got the job.
The Senate voted 52 to 42 on Wednesday to confirm Garcetti as the next US ambassador to India. Seven Republicans joined all but three Democrats present in endorsing him for the job.
The former mayor had to fight for his new post. President Biden selected Garcetti, a close political ally, for the post of Plum Ambassador in July 2021, but the nomination quickly stalled. Biden’s Democratic allies on Capitol Hill have raised concerns about whether Garcetti knew, or should have known, of the alleged sexual harassment of his colleagues by a former senior official.
Ultimately, Biden’s unwavering loyalty to Garcetti likely saved the former mayor’s confirmation. By refusing to give up on his ally – even appointing him a second time when the new Congress began this year – and allowing an important ambassadorial post to remain vacant for record time, Biden has created an unlikely standoff with the Senate Democrats.
“Once Biden nominated him for the second time, it was clear this was a priority for him and it was now going to be quite embarrassing if we couldn’t confirm a nominee to one of our most important allies. for three years,” said Sen. Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn.), who, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee with jurisdiction over U.S.-India relations, has long wanted an ambassador in place. .
Garcetti also had the help of Republicans who walked down the aisle in support of his nomination in hopes of bolstering US-India relations.
During the lengthy process, Garcetti never considered stepping down, and Biden never asked him to do so, the former mayor said in an interview Wednesday.
“I checked with him to make sure he still wanted me,” Garcetti said, noting he didn’t want to block the president’s foreign agenda. “I can tell you, unequivocally, he said, ‘Eric, I’m still 100 per cent behind you.'”
A longtime politician – but who admitted to having few connections in Washington outside of the president – Garcetti acknowledged that it took him time to meet with senators, set up meetings and deliver his response to allegations about the former assistant, Rick Jacobs.
“When they looked at my qualifications, they looked at the evidence, it wasn’t a hard vote,” he said.
Initially, it looked like Garcetti’s nomination would go through. He cleared his first Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote in late 2021 with no opposition expressed, signaling a clear path to final approval in the Senate.
But soon enough, the chatter surrounding Jacobs — that he was sexually harassing colleagues in Garcetti’s office and that the former mayor knew or should have known — crossed the country to Washington. Democrats feared Garcetti’s endorsement would undermine their zero-tolerance policy on harassment.
Asked about the matter at his committee hearing in 2021, Garcetti said he was unaware of Jacobs’ alleged conduct and that if he had, he would have done something about it. Separately, Jacobs denied the allegations.
By early 2022, complaints about Garcetti’s handling of the Jacobs case were growing louder.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said a whistleblower contacted his office with allegations that Garcetti was aware of Jacobs’ actions. He announced an investigation and suspended the nomination, a warning that he was blocking any effort to expedite the nomination. Other Republicans followed suit.
The holds meant that if Democrats wanted to put the nomination on the ground, they would have to hold two votes instead of one and tie up valuable speaking time. Senate Democrats did not want to spend time on a nomination that some of their members found controversial.
Several Democrats have publicly said they weren’t sure they could back Garcetti — a potential death knell for his nomination in the House which was then evenly split between 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats (including independents who caucus with them).
Throughout the process, Biden was “very, very involved,” according to a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak candidly about the nomination. Biden was “watching and being a part of this closely for a long time…and we just drove.”
The White House sent an unequivocal message to Capitol Hill: Biden was staying with Garcetti. There was no plan B.
“If that vote failed, it would have started all over again,” Murphy said. “In reality, that would have meant the position would remain vacant for the rest of this year. It’s just compounding error upon error.
Garcetti and his allies turned up the heat, sometimes in unconventional ways.
He made frequent trips to Washington, sometimes accosting walk-in senators, according to several people familiar with his actions. In one instance, Garcetti’s allies left Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Arizona) with the impression that the senator would be cut off from Garcetti’s valuable donor network if he voted no, according to Politico. Kelly ultimately voted against the nomination.
Garcetti said he had “enthusiastic friends” and only asked his allies to give introductions.
The parents of the former mayor – the former LA County Dist. Atti. Gil Garcetti and Sukey Garcetti – hired lobbyists to help him get his confirmation. Even in Washington, lobbyists are rarely hired to mentor candidates for ambassadorships — and even more rarely hired by a candidate’s parents. In 2022 alone, Garcetti’s parents spent $90,000 on the effort, according to federal documents. Garcetti said Wednesday that his family had hired lobbyists to ensure that people who would have stood up for him anyway would be properly paid and recognized for their work.
Garcetti leaned on the few Washington friends he had, like Sen. Cory Booker (DN.J.), who has known Garcetti for decades. Booker missed the vote on Wednesday but told Garcetti he was pushing his colleagues to vote yes from his cellphone on Amtrak.
Other senators, including Murphy and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who is close to Biden, have stressed the importance of having someone confirmed in the job.
Republicans interested in US-India relations echoed that message. “The Biden administration and my colleagues here have taken far too long to fill what I think is one of the most vital ambassadors we have,” said Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, one of the Republicans who voted for Garcetti.
Garcetti said he had been patient through the ups and downs of the process as he served the end of his term as mayor. His successor, former representative Karen Bass, was sworn in on December 11.
“On December 12 – as Christmas rolled around – it became clear that we have to do it now if it is ever going to happen,” he said.
A recent trip by a congressional delegation to India led by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) – during which Indians questioned senators on why the world’s preeminent superpower had yet to send an ambassador to the world’s largest democracy – bolstered Garcetti’s case.
And finally, Biden’s renomination of Garcetti on the first day of this year’s new Congress sent an unequivocal message.
“There was ultimately a ruling, when the president reappointed him, that he was entitled to one vote,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.).
Garcetti’s close relationship with Biden – the president called to congratulate him just hours after his confirmation – will be a boon to US relations with India, Murphy said.
“A country like India wants to know that when they’re talking to the ambassador, they’re talking to someone who has the president’s ear,” Murphy said. “Eric’s confirmation was especially important because everyone knows how close he is to Biden.”
Garcetti does not yet know when he will leave for New Delhi. But he and his family are ready to leave “as soon as possible”, he said.
Times writer Courtney Subramanian contributed to this report.
Los Angeles Times