As internal Senate wrangling abates, approval of US envoy to India could proceed

Arul Louis(IANS)-


With internal wrangling in the US Senate over nominations abating, the appointment of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as the envoy to India could finally get moving nearly six months after President Joe Biden nominated him even as New Delhi has gone for almost a year without an American ambassadorial representation.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee that heard testimony from him and questioned him last month could vote on his nomination “in the next week or two”, according to Punchbowl News, an authoritative news outlet covering Congress.

That would enable his nomination to move for a final vote to the full Senate, which has to approve all ambassadorial and senior administration appointments.

Garcetti did not appear on the list of 30 nominations approved last month after Republican Senator Ted Cruz lifted his hold on the Senate voting on ambassador nominations.

Since a new session of Congress started this month, his nomination had to be resubmitted and, according to “sources familiar with his nomination” quoted by Punchbowl News, Garcetti has been meeting with Democratic Party Senators on the Committee ahead of the expected vote.

Cruz had been blocking most ambassador nominations using procedural maneuvers because of a dispute with Biden over sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that Russia is building to Germany.

Cruz wants Biden to place sanctions on those involved with the pipeline.

After he lifted his procedural block on voting on the nominations, the 30 approved by a voice vote on December 18 included Peter Haas, a career diplomat as ambassador to Bangladesh.

But the nomination of Donald Armin Blome as the envoy to Pakistan was not among those approved

Neither were those of ambassadors to the UK, France and Germany, which are close NATO allies of the US.

During his appearance before the Senate Committee, Garcetti spoke about relations with India and answered foreign policy questions.

But as it happens often in US politics an internal issue took center stage and the focus turned to allegations that Garcetti’s former senior adviser in Los Angles, Rick Jacobs, sexually harassed a police officer assigned to the mayor’s security detail and that he was aware of it.

The allegation that Garcetti witnessed the harassment and did not act could potentially cost him Democratic support.

Asked about it by Democrat Senator Jeanne Shaheen at the Committee hearing, Garcetti denied witnessing the alleged incidents or that they were brought to his attention.

Shaheen told Punchbowl News: “I thought his response during the hearing was one I hoped that he would have given. And he has reached out to me since to say he would like to come in and sit down and talk further, if that’s helpful to me.”

On his plans as ambassador, Garcetti told the committee that he would “double-down on our efforts to strengthen India’s capacity to secure its borders, defend its sovereignty, and deter aggression”.

“India is situated in a tough neighborhood. Few nations are more vital to the future of American security and prosperity than India,” he added.

He also said that he would “engage closely and regularly with the Indian government on” issues relating to human rights and democratic institutions.

But the allegations against his former aide edged out the foreign policy matters in US media coverage of the hearings.

Garcetti is a former Navy intelligence officer and has taught international affairs at the University of Southern California, and diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College.

Ken Juster resigned as ambassador to India in January last year following the defeat of Donald Trump, who had appointed him, and the post has been vacant.