US President Joe Biden's administration is committed to appoint Eric Garcetti as the next US Ambassador to India after the appointment is approved by the US Senate.
Garcetti is currently the Mayor of Los Angeles, a position he has held since 2013. The Senate approval for his appointment is stalled for over a year over a sexual abuse scandal he is embroiled in.
The post of the US Ambassador to India has been vacant since early 2021 when the previous US envoy Kenneth I Juster completed his tenure. The current US head of mission in India is A Elizabeth Jones, who is serving as the Chargé d’Affaires in the absence of a full-time ambassador.
It's believed that Garcetti's nomination could be approved soon as the Democrats have secured renewed majority in the US Senate in the recently-concluded mid-term elections. The Democrats have secured 50 of the 100 seats and Vice President Kamala Harris serves as the 51st tie-breaking vote. The result on one more seat is still pending. If Democrats win that as well, they will have clear majority in the Senate, making the approval process easier.
What has White House said?
The White House has said it respects the US relationship with India and considers Garcetti's appointment as the US envoy a priority.
"India is a very important relationship that we have. You saw the President (Biden) greet and meet very briefly with Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi just last week when he was in Bali. So clearly, it's an important relationship that we truly respect," said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Monday.
Jean-Pierre exuded confidence that Garcetti would be soon confirmed by the Senate.
She said, "As for Mayor Garcetti, we are committed to getting him through the process. We're continuing to talk to the Senate about making that happen. That is a priority of ours."
In July 2021, US President Biden nominated Garcetti as his Ambassador to India, but the Senate confirmation of Garcetti has been pending for more than a year now. His nomination was initially blocked by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley because of sex abuse scandal.
Who is Eric Garcetti, what's he accused of?
Eric Garcetti is currently the Mayor of Los Angeles. He is considered to be a close ally of President Biden.
Garcetti's appointment is stalled over allegations that he was aware of sex abuse by one of his senior and close staffers and did nothing to report or prevent it.
Garcetti has travelled several times to India. In college, he spent a year studying Hindi and Urdu.
A Rhodes Scholar, Garcetti studied at Queen's College, Oxford, and the London School of Economics and Political Science. He was selected as an inaugural Asia 21 Fellow of the Asia Society and taught at Occidental College's Department of Diplomacy and World Affairs as well as at the University of Southern California's School of International Relations.
It is alleged that Garcetti was aware of sexual abuse accusations against his senior staffer Rick Jacobs and he did not act on those accusations.
A police officer who served as one of Garcetti’s bodyguards alleged that Jacobs made crude sexual comments and touched him inappropriately over many years. The officer alleged that Jacobs would extend his hand for a handshake but then pull him into a “long, tight hug” while simultaneously saying, “I love me my strong LAPD officers” or some other “inappropriate comment”, according to a lawsuit. It added that Jacobs once motioned for him to come over to him and “sit on his lap” at a bar.
This began around 2014 and continued until October 2019, according to the lawsuit filed by the officer.
The lawsuit further said, “Garcetti was present on approximately half of the occasions when Jacobs behaved in this way, and witnessed Jacobs’ conduct, but he took no action to correct Jacobs’ obviously harassing behaviour.”
Moreover, a journalist, Yashar Ali, also accused Jacobs of sexual assault on almost a dozen instances between during 2005-15.
What's the road for Eric Garcetti now?
Though the hold on Garcetti's nomination has been lifted, the ruling Democrats are reluctant to bring his nomination for confirmation before the full Senate as they think they don’t have enough votes for it.
Earlier this month, the White House had exuded confidence that Garcetti would be confirmed by the Senate.
One of the main opponents of Garcetti's appointment is Republican Senator Chuck Grassley.
Grassley earlier said, “I will object because I have received numerous credible allegations from multiple whistleblowers alleging that Mr. Garcetti, while mayor of Los Angeles, had knowledge of sexual harassment and assaults allegedly committed against multiple city employees and their associates by his close adviser and that he ignored the misconduct.
"The United States owes it to the Republic of India to send them a qualified Ambassador that will represent the values of the United States. Mayor Garcetti may very well be fully qualified, but at this time, the Senate needs to look into these allegations further."
(With PTI inputs)