• Mon. Mar 20th, 2023

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Eric Garcetti: The New US Ambassador to India

Eric Garcetti

Eric Garcetti, a Joe Biden loyalist, was seen as one of the Democratic Party’s rising stars until about five years ago. However, the last years of his nine-year-long Mayoral tenure were rocked by scandals.

The USA has finally announced its ambassador to India — Eric Garcetti, former Los Angeles Mayor, got the job over two-and-a-half years after his name was first announced for the post.

Garcetti, a Joe Biden loyalist, was seen as one of the Democratic Party’s rising stars until about five years ago. However, the last years of his nine-year-long Mayoral tenure were rocked by scandals, which cost him a job in the Biden cabinet and almost derailed his ambassador bid.

Garcetti’s path to New Delhi was all but decided last week when the US Senate adopted a cloture motion on it. A cloture motion is adopted when the matter at hand has the support of a supermajority and limits further debate on the matter by the minority members.

Who is Eric Garcetti?

Garcetti’s website says that the 52-year-old was raised in the San Fernando Valley and earned his BA and MA from Columbia University. He studied as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and the London School of Economics and taught at Occidental College and USC. He was an officer in the US Navy reserve for 12 years and “is an avid jazz pianist and photographer,” the website says. He has a daughter with his wife, Amy Elaine Wakeland.

When he was elected as the Mayor of Los Angeles in 2013 — a post he held till 2022 — he became the city’s youngest mayor in 100 years, and the first Jewish person to take that chair. Before that, he served as President of the Los Angeles City Council from 2006 to 2012, and as a Councilmember of the 13th District before that.

His mayoral tenure in Los Angeles was mixed but had some definite high points, including securing the city as the 2028 Olympics venue.

While he was lauded for adopting a $15 minimum wage, for improving Los Angeles’s transit system and making it more earthquake-resilient, and for his regular briefings during the Covid pandemic which many residents found reassuring, he was criticised for the homelessness crisis in the city. During the protests following the killing of George Floyd, he was criticised by both the left and the right for his attempts at finding a middle ground to the “defund the police” calls. Corruption allegations at the City Council cast a further shadow on his record.

However, the biggest setback for him came in the form of sexual misconduct allegations against an aide, whom Garcetti was accused of not acting against.

What was the Rick Jacobs scandal?

In 2020, a lawsuit was filed against Rick Jacobs, a key aide of Garcetti, by police officer and Garcetti’s bodyguard Matthew Garza. Garza alleged that Jacobs touched him inappropriately and made “crude sexual remarks”. Following this, Jacobs stepped down from his duties. Garcetti has repeatedly insisted that he did not know anything about the alleged misconduct. However, his opponents have alleged that he either knew about the allegations and did not act on them, or was unaware of what was going on in his team.

What was the fallout?

As reported earlier by media reports, Garcetti was co-chair of Biden’s election campaign and remains a major political ally of the President. It was expected he would be part of Biden’s cabinet, but the controversy around Jacobs is said to have scuttled his chances of that.

While his nomination as ambassador to India was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January last year, in March, US Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, placed a hold on it citing the Jacobs allegations. A report by Grassley concluded that Garcetti “likely knew or should have known” that Jacobs was allegedly sexually harassing city employees and had also made racist comments.

When a hold is placed on a nominee by a senator, it means the nominee cannot be approved quickly by unanimous consent, which delays the confirmation process. Other Republicans too opposed the nomination.

The White House called Grassley’s report a partisan “hit job”, but some Democrats also had reservations about Garcetti. While he cleared the committee in his initial nomination, he was never brought to the Senate floor for a full vote.

According to a report from Axios last May, Democrats Richard Blumenthal, senior senator from Connecticut; Mark Kelly, junior senator from Arizona; Kirsten Gillibrand, junior senator from New York, and Independent Krysten Sinema, senior senator from Arizona, were not sure affirmative votes. Gillibrand has now said she will support the nomination, “expressing confidence in the review of Garcetti conducted by the foreign relations panel”, CNN reported.

On March 13, Naomi Seligman, a former communications director for Garcetti, told CNN that, “He is unfit to become an ambassador or really to hold public office anywhere in this country or this world”, over the Jacobs episode.

Manshi T

Senior Editor @NewsInfoIndia

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