It took nearly two years, but former Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti finally got the job.
The Senate voted 52 to 42 Wednesday to confirm Garcetti as the next U.S. ambassador to India. Seven Republicans joined all but three Democrats present in approving him for the post.
The former mayor had to fight for his new gig. President Biden picked Garcetti, a close political ally, for the plum ambassadorial post in July 2021, but the nomination soon stalled. Biden’s Democratic allies on Capitol Hill raised concerns about whether Garcetti knew, or should have known, about a former top aide’s alleged sexual harassment of colleagues.
Ultimately, Biden’s unflinching loyalty to Garcetti probably saved the former mayor’s confirmation. By refusing to abandon his ally — even nominating him a second time when the new Congress began this year — and by allowing an important ambassadorship to sit vacant for a record amount of time, Biden created an unlikely standoff with Senate Democrats.
“Once Biden nominated him for the second time, it was clear that this was a priority for him and it was now going to be pretty 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 jurisidction over U.S.-India relations, has long wanted an ambassador in place.
Garcetti also had help from the Republicans who crossed the aisle to support his nomination in the hopes of bolstering the U.S.-India relationship.
Through the lengthy process, Garcetti never considered backing out, and Biden never asked him to do so, the former mayor said in an interview Wednesday.
“I checked in with him to make sure he still wanted me,” Garcetti said, noting he didn’t want to serve as a blockade 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 relationships in Washington besides the president — Garcetti acknowledged that it took time for him to meet senators, arrange meetings and convey his response to the allegations surrounding the former aide, Rick Jacobs.
“When they looked at my qualifications, they looked at the evidence, it was not a tough vote,” he said.
Initially, it appeared as though Garcetti’s nomination would sail through. He cleared his first Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote in late 2021 without any voiced opposition, signaling a clear path to final approval on the Senate floor.
But soon enough, the chatter surrounding Jacobs — that he sexually harassed colleagues in Garcetti’s office and that the former mayor knew or should have known — crossed the country to Washington. Democrats were concerned that supporting Garcetti would dint their expressed zero-tolerance policy on harassment.
When asked about the matter in his committee hearing in 2021, Garcetti said he did not know about Jacobs’ alleged conduct and that if he had, he would have done something. Separately, Jacobs denied the allegations.
By early 2022, complaints about Garcetti’s handling of the Jacobs matter were growing louder.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said that a whistleblower had contacted his office with allegations that Garcetti knew of Jacobs’ actions. He announced an investigation and placed a hold on the nomination, a formal notice that he blocked any effort to fast-track the nomination. Other Republicans followed suit.
The holds meant that if Democrats wanted to bring the nomination to the floor, they would need to hold two votes instead of one and tie up valuable floor time. Senate Democrats didn’t want to spend time on a nomination that some of their members found controversial.
Several Democrats went public saying they were unsure they could support Garcetti — a potential death knell for his nomination in the chamber that was then equally divided at 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats (including the 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 talk frankly about the nomination. Biden “was monitoring and being part of this closely for a long time … and we just drove.”
The White House sent an unmistakable message to the Hill: Biden was sticking with Garcetti. There was no Plan B.
“If this vote failed, it would have started from scratch,” Murphy said. “Realistically, that would have meant that post would remain vacant for the rest of this year. That’s just compounding error upon error.”
Garcetti and his allies turned up the pressure, in sometimes 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 donor network if he voted no, according to Politico. Kelly ultimately voted against the nomination.
Garcetti said that he has “enthusiastic friends” and that he asked his allies only to make introductions.
The former mayor’s parents — former Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti and Sukey Garcetti — hired lobbyists to help win his confirmation. Even in Washington, lobbyists are rarely hired to shepherd ambassadorial nominees — and even more rarely hired by a nominee’s parents. In 2022 alone, Garcetti’s parents spent $90,000 on the effort, according to federal filings. Garcetti said on Wednesday that his family hired lobbyists to ensure that people who would’ve advocated for him anyway were properly paid and recognized for their work.
Garcetti leaned on the few Washington friends he had, such as Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who has known Garcetti for decades. Booker missed the vote Wednesday but told Garcetti he was pushing colleagues to vote yes from his cellphone on Amtrak.
Other senators, including Murphy and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who is close with Biden, pressed their colleagues on the importance of having someone confirmed in the job.
Republicans who are interested in the U.S.-India relationship 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 ambassadorships that 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 mayorship. His successor, former Rep. Karen Bass, was sworn in on Dec 11.
“On December 12 — as that Christmas came — it became clear we have to do this now if its ever going to get done,” he said.
A recent congressional delegation trip to India led by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) — during which Indians questioned senators about why the world’s preeminent superpower hadn’t yet 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 the new Congress this year sent an unmistakable message.
“There was finally a decision, when the president renominated him, that he was entitled to a vote,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.).
Garcetti’s close relationship with Biden — the president called to congratulate him just a few hours after his confirmation Wednesday — will be a benefit to the U.S. 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 president’s ear,” Murphy said. “Getting Eric confirmed was especially important because everybody knows how close he is to Biden.”
Garcetti is not yet sure when he will depart for New Delhi. But he and his family are ready to leave “as soon as possible,” he said.
Staff writer Courtney Subramanian contributed to this report.