With just two months to go in the current U.S. Congressional term, the Biden administration is redoubling efforts to ensure the nomination of Eric Garcetti is cleared by the Senate in the next few weeks, before his nomination lapses. Confirming that the U.S. still intends to send the Los Angeles Mayor and close associate of U.S. President Joseph Biden to New Delhi, the White House said the appointment remains a “priority”, especially given that it is nearly two years since the last U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Juster left Delhi.
“We continue to seek the expeditious confirmation of Mayor Garcetti — that is important to this President, a priority to this President — who was voted out of committee with strong bipartisan support to serve as Ambassador to India,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Thursday, referring to the fact that Mr. Garcetti, who was nominated as far back as July 2021, was cleared by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January 2022.
However, the last step of voting on his confirmation on the floor of the Senate has not happened yet, although others who were cleared by the Committee at the same time, including Ambassadors to Pakistan, Germany and the Vatican were confirmed and posted shortly afterwards. Mr. Garcetti’s nomination was effectively blocked by two Republican Senators over allegations of sexual harassment by his deputy in office.
Though the blocks have reportedly been lifted, the Biden administration has not felt confident of the numbers in the Senate to bring Mr. Garcetti’s nomination to the floor. Even without holds, the administration would need a simple majority of 51 votes in the Senate, where Democrat strength at present is 48, and it is unclear if all Democrats are on board with the Garcetti appointment.
Much will now depend on how next week’s mid-term Congressional elections play out, and analysts warn that a swing in favour of the opposition Republican party could further complicate the appointment. In addition, the Garcetti nomination will lapse on January 3, 2023, when the new Congress comes in, and a fresh nomination process would be required.
“Not having an ambassador in place has a substantial impact on the relationship, as the US is missing opportunities to strengthen ties. It is crucial that the U.S. administration brings Mr. Garcetti’s nomination to the Senate for confirmation as soon as the mid-term elections are over,” Mukesh Aghi, president and CEO of the U.S. India Strategic Partnership Forum told The Hindu during a visit to Delhi.
In an interview to Los Angeles Magazine last week, Mr. Garcetti said the process has been “frustrating”, but he is “optimistic” that the confirmation will come through, especially as he will complete his term as Los Angeles mayor by December. Reports have suggested that if it does, the confirmation would also come in time for a possible visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the U.S. to chair a special session of the UN Security Council in mid-December on counter-terrorism, before travelling to Washington for meetings. Ahead of the visit, which is yet to be confirmed, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra is in the U.S. this week, and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar is also expected to travel to the U.S. in December.
When asked about the lack of a U.S. Ambassador in Delhi for 22 months, the longest such period in history, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said that representation is the “choice of the sending state”. Since Mr. Juster, who was a Trump appointee left in January 2021, the U.S. has sent five Charge d’Affaires to New Delhi. The latest is 74-year old Elizabeth Jones, an officer who retired as a career diplomat years ago, but was appointed more recently to oversee Afghan relocation efforts in the U.S.
“I think we have vibrant ties with the U.S. and they are going from strength to strength. We would of course hope that that position is filled but it is finally the call of the U.S. side,” said MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi at a media briefing on Thursday.