Why India did not have a US ambassador for two years and is finally getting one


He had packed his bags and was ready to leave almost two years ago. Now, Eric Garcetti, the former Los Angeles mayor, has finally been confirmed as the United States’ ambassador to India.

The move comes after Garcetti, a close aide of President Joe Biden, received the support from the Senate. The Senate, on Wednesday, voted 52-42 advancing the former Los Angeles mayor’s nomination.

After passing the crucial hurdle, Olivia Dalton, Principal Deputy Press Secretary, was quoted as saying, “President Biden believes that the US has a crucial and consequential partnership with India and that Garcetti will make a strong and effective ambassador.”

She added, “The President thanks Chairman Menendez and Senators on both sides of the aisle for their thorough consideration and for today’s bipartisan vote to confirm Garcetti.”

The vacancy, as the Associated Press reported, has been a glaring diplomatic gap for the US administration, which faces global tensions, including China’s presence in the Pacific region and Russia’s war with Ukraine.

We take a closer look at who is Eric Garcetti and what has held up his appointment for so long.

Who is Eric Garcetti?

Born in 1971, Eric Michael Garcetti is a member of the Democratic Party in the US. In 2013, he was elected as Los Angeles mayor and served in that post until 2022. Prior to that, he served for 12 years as a member of the City Council, including six as Council President.

As Los Angeles mayor, Garcetti oversaw the busiest container port in the Western Hemisphere and also one of the busiest airports in the world. He led the city’s successful bid for the summer Olympic Games for 2028.

Garcetti also co-founded Climate Mayors and led more than 400 US mayors to adopt the Paris Climate agreement. He is the current Chair of C40 Cities, a network of 97 of the world’s biggest cities taking bold climate action and has led the organisation’s engagement and expansion in India. He also led the C40’s global response to the COVID-19 pandemic through the sharing of best practices and resources.

An Associated Press report said that Garcetti had considered running for the White House in 2020 but in July of the same year, he endorsed Joe Biden for the 2020 Democratic nomination. Garcetti was one of the co-chairs of Biden’s national campaign. He served on the committee that vetted his pool of vice presidential contenders and served as one of several co-chairs for Biden’s inaugural committee.

In November 2020, Garcetti was named a candidate for Secretary of Transportation in the Biden Administration. There were widespread protests in Los Angeles by Black Lives Matter against the nomination, and Garcetti announced, without providing details, that he had turned down a position offered by President-elect Biden.

Months later, President Joe Biden nominated Eric Garcetti as the United States ambassador to India in May 2021. At the time, many had stated that the post was Biden’s way of rewarding his loyalist.

Eric Garcetti is a longtime loyalist of Joe Biden. He endorsed Joe Biden for the 2020 Democratic nomination and was one of the co-chairs of Biden’s national campaign. File image/Reuters

What held up his nomination?

Garcetti’s appointment as US envoy to India was held up after some lawmakers expressed concerns that the former mayor had turned a blind eye to allegations that a former top aide sexually harassed subordinates and made racist comments.

These stem from allegations made by Garcetti’s former longtime bodyguard, Matthew Garza. In a lawsuit, Garza had alleged that Garcetti’s former top aide Rick Jacobs harassed him and that the former did not stop the behaviour. In his lawsuit, he deposed that Jacobs subjected him on “hundreds of occasions to unwanted and unwelcome sexual comments and touching,” including tight hugs and shoulder rubbing.”

In February 2021, another of Garcetti’s employees emerged with more information against Jacobs. Henry Casas, who was a public-engagement director for Garcetti from 2013 to 2018, testified that he had seen Jacobs harassing Garza.

Garcetti has said that he never witnessed Jacobs sexually harass his police bodyguards, saying if he did then he would have taken action.

However, some top Republican senators were against his appointment, saying that Garcetti hadn’t handled the allegations well and didn’t do enough. US Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, had then written a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to delay Garcetti’s nomination until an investigation into the alleged scandal is concluded against Jacobs.

“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,” Grassley had said in the documents sent to McConnell, according to a report published by Politico.

Senator Joni Ernst, from the Republican party, too announced she had placed a hold on Garcetti’s nomination while investigations were conducted, as some depositions suggest Garcetti knew of Jacobs’ conduct.

In February, Republican senator Marco Rubio also announced that he was placing a hold on President Biden’s nominee for US ambassador to India Eric Garcetti, because Garcetti “has ignored credible sexual assault accusations in his prior office” and called the nomination “absurd”.

“I will not turn a blind eye to these absurd nominations, which will hasten America’s decline,” Rubio had said in a statement announcing holds on Garcetti and six other Biden nominees.

President Joe Biden first nominated Eric Garcetti as the United States ambassador to India in May 2021. File image/Reuters

What happened now?

In the Senate, Garcetti received support by 52-42 votes. On Wednesday, he received the votes after even some Republicans voted in his favour.

“It’s a national security imperative to immediately have an ambassador in place in India. We can’t afford to wait any longer,” said Indiana Senator Todd Young, one of the Republican crossover votes.

Kansas Republican Roger Marshall was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that having an ambassador in place in India was vital in advancing relations among members of the “quad” — the US India, Australia and Japan, which he said puts pressure on China. “We don’t agree on all the different policies he did as mayor, but I think he’s a good person at heart and he would be a good ambassador,” Marshall said. He said on the allegations: “He answered my questions adequately.”

Why does this matter?

It is important to note here that the position of US ambassador to India has been lying vacant since January 2020 when Kenneth Juster stepped down.

India and America are vital partners; the US is India’s largest trading partner and one of its top arms suppliers. Delhi is also crucial to Washington’s efforts to contain a rising China.

Also read: The latest reset: India and the United States amid Ukraine war

Not having an envoy has hurt the relations with Ronak D Desai, an associate at the Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute at Harvard University, writing in the Washington Post, “US-India relations are suffering as a result.”

He writes in the Washington Post, “By failing to confirm Garcetti, politicians in the Senate have deprived the United States of an essential instrument for shaping our relationship with this indispensable partner. The cascade of international crises upending the international order underscores the importance of preserving and strengthening foreign relations with India.”

It also, according to him, gives credence to the theory that US-India relations fare better under Republican administrations than Democratic ones.

India’s Congress MP Shashi Tharoor has also highlighted the fact that the country has not had a US envoy. “While White House officials privately blame the Senate confirmation process for the absence of a permanent ambassador, the question remains: If India matters as much as the US says it does, why has the administration not acted more forcefully to get its nominee confirmed?” Shashi Tharoor was quoted as saying.

In fact, an analysis of data from the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the professional association of the US Foreign Service, in December 2022 revealed that there are over 20 countries whose US ambassadorial nominees are pending confirmation. These include: Azerbaijan, The Bahamas, Barbados, Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Ecuador, Guyana, India, Kuwait, Maldives, Montenegro, Niger, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea & Vanuatu, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Timor-Leste, Turkmenistan, UAE and Zimbabwe.

India is also the only Asian country on the pending list. Meanwhile, Pakistan officially gained a US ambassador in April 2022, Sri Lanka in February 2022, Nepal in October 2022 and Bangladesh in December 2021.

With inputs from agencies

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Why India did not have a US ambassador for two years and is finally getting one
Why India did not have a US ambassador for two years and is finally getting one
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