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As India Finally Gets US Envoy, Biden-Modi Must Expand Ties & Balance China Too

Despite allegations for failing to prevent #MeToo at work, can Garcetti be instrumental in national security plans?

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It’s rare that an ambassadorial appointment becomes a matter of national security but that’s what it took to get Eric Garcetti confirmed by the Senate as the US Ambassador to India.

After nearly two long, tortuous years of allegations and investigations, a majority of senators, including some Republicans voted for Garcetti because to approve him and get an ambassador in New Delhi was more important than to reject him because as Mayor of Los Angeles, he had allegedly failed to prevent sexual harassment in his office by his own Chief of Staff.

Snapshot
  • After nearly two long years of allegations and investigations, a majority of senators, including some Republicans voted for Garcetti to be US Ambassador to India.

  • Allegations are that he failed to prevent sexual harassment in his office by his own Chief of Staff.

  • A US Senator cited 'National Security' as primary focus for India to balance China, and work with the US throughout the Indo-Pacific.

  • Garcetti was an early supporter of Biden as a presidential candidate and became the co-chair for his 2020 campaign when the president’s prospects for beating the odds were seen as low.

  • It was also revealed this week that Garcetti allegedly received donations from individuals connected to the Chinese Communist Party.

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National Security Over Controversy

"It’s in our national security interest to have an ambassador immediately in place in India in order to balance China, and work with the US throughout the Indo-Pacific,” said Senator Todd Young, a Republican. “He has an imperfect resume but (has) the skills to succeed in this capacity.”

That sums up Garcetti’s painful journey from nomination to confirmation which was uncertain until the vote on Wednesday. Neither party had issued a whip to vote for or against his nomination, leaving it up to the senators to vote their “conscience”.

Throughout the long process, Garcetti maintained that he was unaware that his senior aide and long-time advisor Rick Jacobs was routinely sexually harassing co-workers despite testimony from several former employees and at least, one photograph that clearly shows bad things were happening in Garcetti’s presence. No surprise that the Senate confirmation was condemned by some of the victims. Their tragedy was far from geopolitics and balancing China.

To say that senators, especially women struggled with Garcetti’s nomination would be an understatement. That is why the vote took as long as it did to get on the agenda. But in the end, many voted for him without 'an explanation of vote’ as it were. The final vote was 52-42 with seven Republicans voting 'yes’ to get Garcetti comfortably across the finishing line. Bipartisanship on the importance of India was on display.
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President Joe Biden must like Garcetti a lot or maybe he owes the Ex-mayor a huge political payback or a bit of both. As for the diplomats in the Indian foreign office, they appreciate when an ambassador has the “ear” of the president as the cliché goes.

They believe that to be the case with Garcetti. Only time will tell how much he can accomplish in the less than two years remaining in Biden’s term. Besides, next year will be exhausted by-elections in both countries.

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India’s Diplomatic Response & What Garcetti’s Appointment Means for #MeToo

India’s External Affairs Ministry exercised utmost discipline and did not comment even clandestinely on Garcetti’s reputation and nor did members of the Indian media for the most part. It seemed few wanted to delve deeply into his past or raise questions about his fitness for high office. There was quiet compliance all around.

Biden led the way by ignoring what many would call “credible” evidence and testimonies against Garcetti. They surely must have come up during background checks. Democrats say they are value-based people but the Garcetti vote shows that some of the most progressive Democrats—Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand—can vote along party lines and ignore principles.

Is it because the opposition against Garcetti wasn’t a mass movement like the #MeToo campaign and wouldn’t hurt them politically at the grassroots level? Only one woman Democrat Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and two other Democrats voted against Garcetti’s confirmation.
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Naomi Seligman, a former communications director for Garcetti and a victim who briefed tens of senators, calls the former mayor an “enabler”. She said his confirmation as an ambassador was “heartbreaking” not only for herself but for “those who are living through sexual harassment and abuse right now and look to our political leaders to protect them if they come forward.”

It makes a mockery of “purported bipartisan support of the #Metoo movement,” she told me. Senators cannot subject their values to political expediency, she added. “Predators persist in their abuse only if enablers in the position of power allow them to.”

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Biden Has Garcetti's Back Despite Purported China Link 

Apart from allegations that he ignored sexual harassment in his office, it was revealed this week that Garcetti allegedly received donations from individuals connected to the Chinese Communist Party, the biggest sin these days in Washington. The story broke too late to cause any damage.

According to the Daily Caller, a right-wing news website, he apparently attended events organised by alleged front groups working for China’s United Front Work Department, which is known for conducting influence operations around the world.

The fact is nothing would have mattered to the White House. Biden stuck with Garcetti after nominating him in July 2021 even after the nomination stalled and eventually expired with the old Senate following the November 2022 midterm elections. He re-nominated Garcetti as the new Senate took office showing a kind of doggedness that is unusual in politics.
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He chose not to name a new candidate as an Ambassador despite the storm of controversy, including in New Delhi. Since India didn’t have a US ambassador for two years, Indian analysts had been raising questions about Biden’s commitment to the “strategic partnership”. How important can India really be if the US President doesn’t care to get an Ambassador in place, they asked.

The fact is Biden wasn’t dissing India per se but insisted on playing blind. So what if Democratic Party politics got entangled with foreign policy goals, the White House seemed unperturbed. Even US officials were complaining in private— it had been two years without a full-rank Ambassador. That’s a bad record.

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The US Embassy in New Delhi was floundering to “do the needful” for a rapidly expanding India-US relationship with a train of temporary chiefs or charge d’affaires (CDA). There have been six CDAs since Kenneth Juster—the last full-on US ambassador left New Delhi in January 2021.

Garcetti’s parents even hired lobbyists to keep pushing the White House and win support for their son in the Senate. They spent around USD 90,000 to see him as ambassador to India, according to Politico. There’s a story about entitlement hidden there somewhere.

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Can Biden’s Payback Politics Help Redeem Garcetti’s Career?

Garcetti was an early supporter of Biden as a presidential candidate and became the co-chair for his 2020 campaign when the president’s prospects for beating the odds were seen as low. He showed loyalty and Biden values that.

In the end, the fight for Biden centered around Garcetti’s political survival and viability as a future big wig in the Democratic Party. If he didn’t get to be Ambassador to India, Garcetti’s political resume would have a big vacuum. Originally he was meant to be in Biden’s cabinet but he reportedly didn’t make the cut. There were too many claimants for too few positions— they don’t have jumbo cabinets in the US like in India.

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The next best thing was ambassadorship to a large and strategically important country so Garcetti could burnish his foreign policy credentials. India will provide field experience.

(Seema Sirohi is a senior Washington-based journalist. She can be reached at @seemasirohi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  foreign policy   Joe Biden   India-US Ties 

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