Inside a two-year Senate fight
Good morning! It’s Thursday, March 16, 2023. The 2024 elections are 600 days away.
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Garcetti confirmed after 600-day fight that roiled Washington
India is the world’s largest democracy; later this decade, it is poised to become the world’s most populous country.
Positioned in an increasingly vital strategic region, it is seen as a key bulwark against Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific. And the country is one of America’s top trading partners.
And yet, for more than two years, there has been no U.S. ambassador to India.
That is, until Wednesday, when the Senate confirmed former Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti to the post, 614 days after he was nominated. The vote was 52-42, featuring an unusual alignment of senators: seven Republicans backed the nomination, while three Democrats were opposed.
What took so long, and what accounts for the unique bipartisan coalitions on both sides of the vote?
Garcetti’s nomination was hampered — and repeatedly delayed — by claims that he was aware of sexual harassment allegations against a top adviser, Rick Jacobs.
Here’s an account by Naomi Seligman, Garcetti’s former communications director, to New York Magazine on an unwanted sexual advance from Jacobs inside her City Hall office:
“He crushes me against his body, pulling me in with all his strength. I’m like a rag doll. He’s pulling me into him and kisses me on the lips for some long, uncomfortable period of time. He kisses me on the lips. I’m trying to push back, but he has my arms pinned down against the sides of my body so I have no leverage to push back.”
Several other Garcetti aides — both male and female — have made similar allegations. Four sources who worked closely with Garcetti and Jacobs told New York that the then-mayor was “fully aware of Jacobs’ behavior,” but the ambassadorial nominee denied any knowledge during his Senate confirmation hearing.
After 15 witness interviews, investigators in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) office concluded in a 23-page report that “it is more likely than not that Mayor Garcetti either had personal knowledge of the sexual harassment or should have been aware of it,” while a 310-page report commissioned by Garcetti’s office came to the opposite conclusion.
Notably, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) — one of the three Democrats who opposed Garcetti — told NBC News before the vote that she had received additional “information that was given to me in confidence, but very credible, which is leading to my no vote.” Hirono, who had switched from previously saying she would support Garcetti, declined to outline what the information was.
Several Republicans said they crossed party lines to rescue Garcetti’s nomination due to the importance of the U.S. having a confirmed envoy to New Delhi.
“It’s a national security imperative to immediately have an ambassador in place in India,” Sen. Todd Young (R-IN), a “yes” vote, told the Associated Press. “We can’t afford to wait any longer.”
Three dynamics to note
There are three Washington dynamics worth exploring in light of this contentious nomination fight:
- Is #MeToo fading in power?
In late 2017 and early 2018, nine members of Congress — including influential Democrats like Al Franken and John Conyers — lost their jobs over the course of six months due to allegations of sexual misconduct.
Now, in the Biden era, Andrew Cuomo was able to hang on for nearly a year (and is reportedly plotting a comeback) and allegations against Biden himself were summarily ignored by Democrats.
Interestingly, one of the 45 Democrats who voted for Garcetti was Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who has made combatting sexual harassment her signature issue in the Senate (and memorably was an early voice calling for Franken’s ouster). Here was Gillibrand at the time, explaining her Franken stance on “60 Minutes”:
“I have a 14-year old son. And-- I cannot have a conversation that says, ‘Well, it's okay to grab somebody here but not there.’ It's not okay at all. You don’t grab women. You don’t push yourself on them.”
A spokesperson told the New York Times that Gillibrand had “confidence in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s review of this nomination,” leading to her “yes” vote.
- A new kind of “ambassadonor”
It is an odd — and uniquely American — quirk that not all of the U.S. diplomatic corps is made up of diplomats.
In most administrations, about 30% of ambassador nominees have been reserved for top political donors, a high proportion considering that the U.S. is the “only Western government” that routinely picks envoys based on political contributions and not diplomatic experience, according to Foreign Policy magazine.
Former President Donald Trump broke the standard 30/70 ratio, passing over career foreign service officials for 43.5% of his ambassador nominees, rewarding many high-dollar donors.
That led Biden to promise in 2019 that he would “appoint the best people possible” to ambassadorships. “Nobody, in fact, will be appointed by me based on anything they contributed,” he said.
However, according to the American Foreign Service Association, 40.1% of Biden’s nominees have been political picks coming outside of the active foreign service corps.
Interestingly, compared to his predecessors, more of those political picks have been ex-politicians like Garcetti, not just donors. Biden’s ambassadors include four former senators (Ken Salazar, Tom Udall, Jeff Flake, and Joe Donnelly), a former Delaware governor (Jack Markell), and former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, plus Cindy McCain and three Kennedys (Caroline, Vicki, and Joe III).
After nearly 50 years in politics, Biden has collected quite the assortment of political allies he is now rewarding with plum posts across the globe. Garcetti, for his part, endorsed Biden’s presidential campaign while it was floundering in January 2020 (after considering a White House bid himself). Now he’s received an ambassadorship for his trouble. (Garcetti frequently notes in interviews that he studied Hindi in college and has traveled to India several times.)
- Empty embassies
Finally, it’s worth noting how many other ambassadorships remain vacant, even ones without sexual misconduct scandals hanging over them.
Per the Partnership for Public Service, 48 out of 193 ambassadorial slots — about a quarter — are empty more than two years into Biden’s presidency. That includes key posts like the ambassadors to Saudia Arabia, Egypt, and Italy. (There are whispers Biden is keeping the last one open for Nancy Pelosi, although no evidence has ever emerged for the rumors.)
The reason is a combination of White House delays — it took Biden months to nominate an ambassador to a single country — and Senate slowness, as nominees inch through the confirmation process and frequently face unrelated holds.
Why are the vacancies a problem? Here’s a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee explaining in 2006:
“We know from experience that leaving an embassy without an ambassador for an extended period of time is very bad for our interests — because it reduces the amount of access to high levels of government for the U.S. embassy.”
That senator? Joseph R. Biden.
- The Biden administration has offered TikTok’s Chinese parent company an ultimatum, per the Wall Street Journal: sell the app or face a ban in the United States.
- Donald Trump’s super PAC filed an ethics complaint against Ron DeSantis on Tuesday, accusing the Florida government of violating state election law by running an unannounced “shadow presidential campaign.”
- Meanwhile, DeSantis’ campaign-in-waiting received its first congressional endorsement on Tuesday: from Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), a leading member of the Freedom Caucus.
- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) could remain at an inpatient rehab facility for up to two weeks after suffering a concussion and a rib fracture during a recent fall, per USA Today.
- Punchbowl News noted recently that McConnell’s “absence from the Capitol is depriving the Senate of one of its strongest pro-Ukraine voices,” as the GOP engages in a very public debate over its stance on aiding Kyiv.
- Stormy Daniels met with Manhattan prosecutors on Wednesday as they heighten their investigation into a hush payment made to her on Trump’s behalf in 2016.
- Two related, recommended reads: an Atlanta Journal-Constitution deep dive inside the workings of the Trump grand jury in Georgia and a New York Times meditation on the jury’s forewoman offering a reminder that “every once-respected process and institution is found to be made up of, well, idiots like us.”
— President Biden has nothing on his public schedule except for his daily intelligence briefing.
— The Senate will hold a procedural vote to advance S. 316, which would repeal the 1991 and 2002 authorizations of use of military force (AUMFs) against Iraq.
- 💡 Context: The two measures were intended to greenlight the Gulf and Iraq Wars, but have been used repeatedly in the years since by presidents of both parties to justify authorizing airstrikes — without congressional approval — in Iraq and Syria.
The chamber will also vote to confirm a federal district judge nominee; if approved, she will be Biden’s 117th judicial nominee to join the bench.
— Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will testify before the Senate Finance Committee, where she will likely face questions on the Silicon Valley Bank collapse, the Biden budget request, the debt ceiling, inflation, and more. Watch at 10 a.m. ET
— The House is out until next week.
— The Supreme Court has nothing on the docket.
Before I go...
Here’s something fun: America has a new most popular dog breed.
After 31 straight years of Labrador retrievers occupying the spot, the French bulldog has soared to the top of the popularity list, according to the American Kennel Club.
“They’re comical, friendly, loving little dogs,” Patty Sosa, a spokesperson for the French Bull Dog Club of America, told the Associated Press in response to the development.
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