U.S. Ambassadorial nominee Eric Garcetti nears last hurdle before confirmation

U.S. Ambassadorial nominee Eric Garcetti nears last hurdle before confirmation

With 3 months left for a proposed US visit by PM Modi, Washington pushes ahead to a Senate vote for Biden’s Ambassadorial nominee

U.S. Ambassadorial nominee to India Eric Garcetti’s confirmation went into its final stages on Tuesday, with the U.S. Senate scheduled to consider a “cloture motion”, the final step before a full Senate vote that would allow him to take up his assignment in New Delhi.

The vote will come just three months before a proposed state visit to the U.S. by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June. If he clears the cloture motion and the Senate vote, expected later on Wednesday, Mr. Garcetti would have his task cut out for him from the moment he arrives in India.

According to the official website, the U.S. Senate would consider the cloture motions for the nomination of Mr. Garcetti and three other nominees after 5.30 p.m. U.S. time on March 14 (4 a.m. India time).

Ahead of the cloture motion, that would, if passed, block all further attempts by the U.S. Opposition to reopen the allegations against him and other “filibuster” attempts, Mr. Garcetti faced another round of criticism over his previous record as the Mayor of Los Angeles.

Amid a series of allegations that he did not prevent his chief aide, Rick Jacobs, from sexually harassing a number of employees, came a new allegation, carried by right-wing news portal Daily Caller, that Mr. Garcetti had close links with Chinese officials believed to be involved in “influence operations”, including those belonging to the Chinese Communist Party’s “United Front Works Department” (UFWD).

In 2021, after investigations about UFWD projects in India, the Union Home Ministry had put them in the “Prior Reference Category”, banning funding by the organisation.

On Monday night, leading CNN TV network anchor Jake Tapper also broadcast an interview with Mr. Garcetti’s former Communications Director Naomi Seligman. Ms. Seligman accused Mr. Garcetti of inaction over Mr. Jacobs’ alleged abusive behaviour, and said she had testified against Mr. Garcetti being posted to India, during the U.S. Senate investigation on the matter, and called him “unfit” to lead the embassy and consulates in India, which employ about 2,000 personnel .

The allegations have held up Mr. Garcetti’s posting since July 2021, when he was first nominated by U.S. President Joseph Biden, and although he was cleared by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in January 2022, his confirmation vote was never brought to the Senate, and subsequently lapsed.

In January 2023, Mr. Biden re-nominated Mr. Garcetti, after the Democrats won a 51-49 lead in the Senate, and U.S. officials say they are hopeful of clearing the vote in the Senate this time around. However, given deep political differences over Mr. Garcetti’s nomination, they will need to ensure every ruling party Senator votes for Mr. Garcetti.

While both the External Affairs Ministry and the U.S. State Department officials have stressed that the absence of a U.S. Ambassador has not hampered bilateral relations, this is the longest such period without an American Ambassador in Delhi.

Since January 2021, when former Ambassador Kenneth Juster resigned, the position has been filled by a string of six career diplomats serving as Charge d’Affaires (CdA), a post presently held by retired Ambassador Elizabeth Jones.

According to Ministry officials, India accepted the U.S.’s diplomatic agreement for Mr. Garcetti as soon as it was sent, and considers him the “Ambassador Designate” until informed otherwise.

However, with Mr. Modi expected to travel to Washington in the third week of June, the pressure is on Washington to ensure that its Ambassador is in Delhi soon to help finalise arrangements.

Mr. Garcetti has also received some criticism in India for his Senate testimony in December 2021, given his emphasis on taking up human rights issues as part of his “core piece” of his engagement in India.

Former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal, referring to the year-old testimony in a tweet last week, said that such a statement was “unprecedented”, and that it was “strange for [the] incoming Ambassador to announce in advance [that] he sees his core job will be to interfere in India’s internal affairs”.

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