It took nearly two years, but former Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti finally landed the job.
The Senate voted 52-42 on Wednesday to confirm Garcetti as the next US ambassador to India. Seven Republicans joined all but three Democrats present in approving him for the job.
The former mayor had to fight for his new position. President Biden picked Garcetti, a close political ally, for the luxury ambassador post in July 2021, but the nomination soon deadlocked. Biden’s Democratic allies on Capitol Hill raised concerns about whether Garcetti knew, or should have known, about the alleged sexual harassment of colleagues by a former aide.
Ultimately, Biden’s unwavering loyalty to Garcetti likely saved the former mayor’s confirmation. By refusing to abandon his ally, even by nominating him for a second time when the new Congress began this year, and by allowing a major embassy to sit vacant for a record time, Biden created an unlikely showdown with Senate Democrats.
“Once Biden nominated him a second time, it became clear that this was a priority for him and now it was going to be pretty embarrassing if we couldn’t confirm a nominee to one of our most important allies for three years,” he said. Sen. Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn.), who, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee with jurisdiction over US-India relations, has long wanted an ambassador in his place.
Garcetti also enlisted the help of Republicans who crossed the aisle to support his nomination in hopes of bolstering the US-India relationship.
During the lengthy process, Garcetti never considered backing out and Biden never asked him to, the former mayor said in an interview Wednesday.
“I checked with him to make sure he still wanted me,” Garcetti said, noting that he did not want to serve as a roadblock to the president’s foreign agenda. “I can tell you, unequivocally, he said, ‘Eric, I’m still 100% behind you.'”
A longtime politician, but one who admitted to having few connections in Washington other than the president, Garcetti acknowledged that it took time for him to meet with senators, set up meetings and deliver his response to the allegations surrounding the former aide, Rick Jacobs.
“When they looked at my grades, they looked at the evidence, it wasn’t a hard vote,” he said.
Initially, it appeared that Garcetti’s nomination would go ahead. He passed the first vote of it in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in late 2021 without any voiced opposition, indicating a clear path toward final approval on the full Senate.
But soon enough, talk of Jacobs sexually harassing colleagues in Garcetti’s office that the former mayor knew or should have known spread across the country to Washington. Democrats worried that supporting Garcetti would affect their stated zero-tolerance policy on bullying.
When asked about the matter at his committee hearing in 2021, Garcetti said he did not know about Jacobs’ alleged conduct and would have done something if he had known. Separately, Jacobs denied the allegations.
By early 2022, complaints about Garcetti’s handling of the Jacobs affair were growing louder.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said a whistleblower had contacted his office with allegations that Garcetti knew of Jacobs’ actions. He announced an investigation and suspended the nomination, a formal notice that he blocked any effort to expedite the nomination. Other Republicans followed his lead.
The holds meant that if the Democrats wanted to take the nomination to the floor, they would have to cast two votes instead of one and take up valuable time on the floor. Senate Democrats did not want to waste time on a nomination that some of their members found controversial.
Several Democrats said publicly that they weren’t sure they could support Garcetti, a potential death knell for his House nomination that later split evenly between 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats (including the independents who sided 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 monitoring and being a part of this closely for a long time… and we just drove.”
The White House sent an unmistakable message to Hill: Biden stayed with Garcetti. There was no plan B.
“If this vote failed, I would have started from scratch,” Murphy said. “Realistically, that would have meant the position would remain vacant for the rest of this year. That’s just error upon error.”
Garcetti and his allies turned up the pressure, sometimes in unconventional ways.
He made frequent trips to Washington, sometimes approaching senators without appointments, according to several people familiar with his actions. In one case, Garcetti allies left Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) with the impression that the senator would be cut off from Garcetti’s valuable network of donors if he voted no. according to Politico. Kelly ultimately voted against the nomination.
Garcetti said he has “enthusiastic friends” and has asked his allies to just make introductions.
The former mayor’s parents — former Los Angeles County district. Lawyer Gil Garcetti and Sukey Garcetti: Lobbyists hired to help get her confirmed. Even in Washington, lobbyists are rarely hired to guide ambassadorial candidates, and even more rarely are they hired by parents of candidates. In 2022 alone, Garcetti’s parents spent $90,000 on the effort, according to federal documents. Garcetti said Wednesday that his family hired lobbyists to make sure the people who would have defended him anyway were properly paid and recognized for his work.
Garcetti relied on the few friends he had in Washington, such as Sen. Cory Booker (DN.J.), who has known Garcetti for decades. Booker missed Wednesday’s vote, but told Garcetti he was pressuring his colleagues to vote yes from his Amtrak cell phone.
Other senators, including Murphy and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who is close to Biden, pressed their colleagues on the importance of someone being confirmed in the job.
Republicans who are interested in the US-India relationship echoed that message. “The Biden administration and my colleagues here have taken too long to occupy what I think is one of the most vital embassies we have,” said Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, one of the Republicans who voted for Garcetti.
Garcetti said he was patient through the ups and downs of the process as he served out the end of his term as mayor. His successor, former Representative Karen Bass, was sworn in on December 11.
“On December 12, when Christmas came around, it became clear that we have to do this now if it is ever going to be done,” he said.
A recent trip by a congressional delegation to India led by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.), during which Indians asked senators why the world’s top superpower still had not sent 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 unmistakable message.
“There was finally a decision, when the president renominated him, that he had the right to vote,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.).
Garcetti’s close relationship with Biden — the president called to congratulate him within hours of his confirmation on Wednesday — will be a boon to the US relationship 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 ear of the president,” Murphy said. “Getting Eric’s confirmation was especially important because everyone knows how close he is to Biden.”
Garcetti is not yet sure when he will leave for New Delhi. But he and his family are ready to go “as soon as possible,” he said.
Staff writer Courtney Subramanian contributed to this report.