Eric Garcetti damaged by scrappy confirmation or empowered by it? (Pit Stop in DC)
The bruising confirmation that played out over two years might have left Eric Garcetti, incoming US Ambassador to India, looking like "damaged goods". But it will be helpful to step back a little and note that he has had the unwavering support and backing of US President Joe Biden all through this process.
And that's all that will matter to New Delhi.
The Modi government had given its nod to Garcetti's nomination before it was announced through a diplomatic process called "Agrement", by which a country formally agrees to receive a representative from a foreign country. To avoid an unsavory after-the-fact situation, countries tend to get the Agrement from the host country before announcing the nominee.
Garcetti's confirmation was delayed because of his failure to address allegations of sexual harassment against a senior aide when he was Mayor of Los Angeles. Opposition came from senators from both the Democratic and Republican parties - and some of the toughest grilling he got for it during his confirmation hearing came from Democrats.
In fact, some Democratic Senators remained opposed to his nomination to the last and three of them voted against confirming him on the Senate floor on Wednesday -- Sherrod Brown, Mazie Hirono, and Mark Kelly.
US Presidents are known to withdraw nominations in the face of stubborn opposition from the Senators of their own party and that was chiefly the reason why the Biden White House took back Neera Tanden's nomination to head the powerful Office of Management and Budget, which would have made her the first Indian-American ever to hold a federal cabinet position. Though it was made to look like Tanden had herself offered to have her nomination withdrawn.
Tanden's nomination was opposed by Democrat Joe Manchin and Bernie Sanders, an Independent senator who caucuses with Democrats, over, chiefly, her caustic comments on them on social media platforms. Tanden's nomination was pronounced dead-on-arrival and was withdrawn in a few weeks.
But Biden stood with Garcetti for nearly two years. The first nomination, which was announced in July 2021. After a confirmation hearing, the nomination stalled and it was deemed returned to the White House in January 2022, technically giving the President a chance to either re-send it or rescind it and nominate someone else.
Biden did neither and left one of America's key missions abroad with a regular head for possibly the longest time yet - the last incumbent Keneth Jester, an appointee of President Donald Trump, had returned to the US in January 2021, just a few days after Biden took office.
A year later, in January 2023, Biden renominated Garcetti, which, some congressional observers said, was an odd decision because there had not been any change of hearts in the Senate over Garcetti. "The only reason I can see is that the White House is somehow convinced it has the numbers this time," one observer said then.
The change in Senate math may have contributed to this new confidence in the White House - the Democrats had increased their tally in the Senate by one in the October mid-term elections, giving them somewhat more room for manoeuvre than in the previous Congress, when they had held the 50-50 Senate with the Vice P+resident's tie-breaker vote. They lost that edge soon after as a Democratic senator switched her affiliation to Independent.
Garcetti scraped by in a 52-42 vote, with 6 Senators not voting.
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