A politically divided U.S. Senate panel on Wednesday advanced Democrat Eric Garcetti’s nomination to become ambassador to India but it remains unclear when, or if, the former Los Angeles mayor will be confirmed given the ongoing sexual harassment allegations against one of his former top aides.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 13-8, with most Republicans opposed. The vote came about 20 months after President Joe Biden initially nominated Garcetti for the job, one of the country’s highest profile diplomatic posts.
The vacancy remains a glaring 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.
Garcetti's nomination cleared the committee in January 2022 but was never considered by the full Senate. Biden renominated him earlier this year and the White House has publicly defended Garcetti as a well-qualified candidate.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer hasn’t said when he would bring the nomination up for a vote by the full chamber, and it isn't clear if Garcetti has sufficient support to be confirmed.
Garcetti needs a majority vote to be confirmed in the closely divided Senate.
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 at the center of the scandal charges that Jacobs frequently sexually harassed one of the then-mayor’s police bodyguards, while Garcetti ignored the abuse or laughed it off.
Garcetti has repeatedly denied the claims. Jacobs has called the allegations against him “pure fiction.”
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.”
Last May, a top Senate Republican released an investigation that concluded Garcetti “likely knew or should have known” that Jacobs was allegedly sexually harassing city employees, a finding that appeared to contradict the mayor’s assertion that he was unaware of any inappropriate behavior. The 23-page report released by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa found it was “extremely unlikely” that the then-mayor would not have been aware of the misconduct allegations.
The White House called the report a partisan smear.
Grassley tweeted this week that he continued to oppose the nomination, and urged colleagues to do the same.
Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, the top Republican on the panel, said that “new evidence” had raised questions about Garcetti's judgment and prompted him to oppose the nomination.
Garcetti considered a 2020 White House bid and later became part of Biden’s inner circle. Ambassadorships frequently reward political supporters.