Joe Biden administration makes renewed push to send Eric Garcetti as U.S. Ambassador to In...

Joe Biden administration makes renewed push to send Eric Garcetti as U.S. Ambassador to India

Eric Garcetti hearing scheduled for Senate Foreign Relationship in the new Congress for February 28, with busy Indo-U.S. diplomatic calendar ahead.

The Biden administration is making another attempt to push through its nominee for U.S. Ambassador to India next week, as the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (SCFR) has scheduled a nomination hearing for former Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and six other nominees to various positions.

The listing of Garcetti as part of a Business meeting scheduled by the Foreign Relations Committee for February 28 will pave the way for a full Senate vote in the new Congress, where it has a greater chance of going through now as the Democrats have a 51-49 slim majority.

India-U.S. relationship ‘defining partnership’ for this century: Former Ambassador Richard Verma

Significantly, the listing coincided with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s travel to Delhi and Mumbai this week, where he led a senior U.S. Congress delegation for meetings, including with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday.

“India, with its democratic traditions, can be a very strong partner in outcompeting China. And India joining the western partnership could serve the purpose of advancing democracy,” he added, in a statement about the visit.

On January 3, this year Mr. Garcetti, whose first nomination to the post made in 2021 lapsed with the previous U.S. Congress, was re-nominated as the Biden nominee for New Delhi, despite the pushback he faced from Republicans and even some Democrat lawmakers over a sexual harassment scandal involving his deputy in his mayoral office.

The U.S. administration has repeatedly said it remains committed to the nomination and that it in no way affects the bilateral relationship, which has seen a record number of high-level meetings in the past two years. Mr. Schumer’s visit, during his first visit abroad leading a Congressional Member Delegation (CODEL) as Majority Leader also sought to show “commitment to the important U.S.-India relationship,” the Senator said.

The renewed push for sending Mr. Garcetti to New Delhi comes ahead of a crowded diplomatic bilateral calendar, with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken due in March for the G20 Foreign Minister’s meeting, Raisina conference, and a proposed, but not yet confirmed, Quad Foreign Minister’s meeting. PM Modi will see President Biden at the G7-outreach summit in Hiroshima in May, followed by the Quad Summit in Sydney.

Officials are also discussing a possible visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Washington for his first State visit to the U.S. in July, and U.S. President Joe Biden will travel to Delhi in September for the G20 Summit.

However, analysts point out that even if Mr. Garcetti is confirmed and arrives in India, it is unclear just how much time he will have in Delhi.

While a normal ambassadorial tenure spans at least three years, the U.S. will enter election season within months, by January 2024, and Mr. Biden’s focus is expected to move to the re-election campaign, if he chooses to run.

In addition, as a politician, Mr. Garcetti may wish to return to the U.S. to campaign or run for an office himself. Mr. Garcetti’s tenure, should his confirmation go through, would also be unusual as the U.S. Ambassador’s residence has gone into renovations, and he would be one of the first Ambassadors not to stay Roosevelt House when he arrives.

The MEA declined to comment on whether Mr. Schumer had discussed the inordinate delay in sending a U.S. Ambassador to India, a post that has been vacant for two years, the longest such period thus far. However, at a Foreign Relations Committee meeting for the nomination of former US Ambassador to India (2014-2017) Richard R. Verma for a senior position in the U.S. State department on February 16, the issue came up for some comment.

“Having a senior official on the ground that represents the President makes a big difference,” Mr. Verma told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his confirmation hearing for Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, where he called the India-U.S. relationship a “defining partnership” of the century.

“I think everyone hopefully appreciates the urgency with the need to put someone there as soon as possible. It’s also, I would say, a morale issue for the team. But more importantly, just delivering on the President’s priorities,” Mr. Verma added in his response to questions about the delay by two members of the committee Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Chris Van Hollen.

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