The long-stalled nomination of former Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to become the U.S. ambassador to India faced a make-or-break vote in the Senate on Wednesday amid questions about support from his own party and fallout from a sexual harassment scandal involving a former top adviser.
Democrat Garcetti’s nomination for the prominent diplomatic post has languished in the Senate for 20 months, after President Joe Biden first named him in July 2021.
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.
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 has repeatedly denied the claims.
Wednesday’s vote tested Democratic loyalty to Biden, and also measured assessments of Garcetti’s judgment and trustworthiness, stemming from the City Hall allegations.
“I think we can find somebody that will do the job better,” said Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
Garcetti also failed to win over Democrat Mark Kelly of Arizona, who said he had “serious concerns.”
With a break in Democratic support, it still was possible Garcetti’s nomination could be salvaged by crossover support from Republicans.
Sen. 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.”
Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., who backed Garcetti in a committee vote, said that he, too, would be voting in favor.
“It’s a national security imperative to immediately have an ambassador in place in India. We can’t afford to wait any longer,” Young said.
Rachel Rizzo, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said she sensed frustration about the lack of an ambassador during a recent trip to India. She said it “gives an impression that the relationship isn’t important.”
“It really points to the internal dysfunction in the U.S. Congress at the moment, and it makes it very hard for us to send the messages that we’re trying to send when it looks to our diplomatic partners that we don’t have our house in order,” she said.
“I think that’s been an issue for the last couple of years.”
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