US May Finally Have Ambassador In India

He packed his bags and was ready to go more than 600 days ago. But at last, he might actually be leaving on a jet plane.

On March 8, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to advance former Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti’s nomination as US ambassador to India.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee at its business meeting on Wednesday voted 13-8 in favour of Garcetti’s nomination, PTI reported. Now the nomination heads to the Senate floor for a full vote.

US President Joe Biden nominated Garcetti for the post of ambassador to India in July 2021. But sexual harassment allegations levelled against Garcetti’s former municipal aide Rick Jacobs — and suggestions that they were brought to his notice and he ignored them — held up the Senate hearing and confirmation.

A US Senate report published in May 2022 suggested that it was ‘extremely unlikely’ that Garcetti was unaware of sexual harassment and racist behaviour by Jacobs.

A separate report by an outside law firm commissioned by the City of Los Angeles, published before the Senate report, cleared Garcetti and Jacobs of wrongdoing

On January 3, Biden announced that he was resubmitting Garcetti’s name to the Senate, which now has one more Democrat since the US midterm elections.

Obstructions to Garcetti’s appointment were bipartisan. He conceded as much when he told CNN in December 2022: ‘I’ve stopped doing the guessing game of the when, but I feel quite optimistic… I have good support from Republicans and Democrats who recognise this is a critical position… I can’t wait to get to work.’

He was not the only one who was anxious to start work. ‘I am committed to making the US-India partnership among the closest we have,’ Biden declared during a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2022.

Just before India assumed the presidency of the G20, US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken termed the US relationship with India as ‘one of the most consequential in the world’.

New Delhi has had no US ambassador since 2021, when Kenneth Ian Juster stepped down at the end of the Trump administration.

“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?” asks Congress MP Shashi Tharoor.

Not all hurdles have been crossed. ‘One of these nominees has ignored credible sexual assault accusations in his prior office,’ said Senator Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida, in a statement last month, announcing his intention to oppose six ambassadorial nominations proposed by the Biden administration, including Garcetti’s.

But some have had a rethink. ‘I’m ready to move on,’ Mazie Hirono, the Democrat Senator from Hawaii, who will back Garcetti, told local media last month. Tammy Duckworth, the Democrat Senator from Illinois, has also indicated she will support Garcetti.

The G20 summit, due in September, will see a New Delhi visit by President Biden. Without an ambassador in place before that, it could be embarrassing.

“In India, where we have no ambassador, we are struggling to gain New Delhi’s support for pressure on Russia to end its aggression in Ukraine and working to develop greater ties with the second-most populous country on earth,” says Eric Rubin, president of the American Foreign Service Association whose members include serving and retired members of the foreign service.

Two Republican Senators — Todd Young and Bill Hagerty — on Wednesday afternoon voted in favour of Garcetti, joining the Democratic lawmakers and passing the nomination through the Senatorial committee.

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