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Senate committee scrutinizes LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, nominated as envoy to India

Although the issue of sexual harassment in the mayor's office came up, most of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's questions involved the U.S. relationship with India.

(CN) — Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti finally got his chance to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, five months after being nominated by President Joe Biden to be the U.S. ambassador to India.

"Few nations are more vital to the future of American security and prosperity than India," Garcetti told the committee. "If confirmed, I look forward to building on the work of my predecessors to elevate our partnership to new heights."

At the tail end of his second and final term as mayor of LA, Garcetti has had some notable successes. He secured the 2024 Summer Olympic Games for LA, and he helped convince voters to pass a ballot measure to expand railway construction.

But his time in office has ultimately been defined by two crises: the coronavirus and homelessness. The number of people living in tents, vehicles and shelters has risen sharply throughout the last decade. Though Garcetti helped shepherd a pair of ballot initiatives to raise revenue for supportive housing and services, the problem has continued to fester. Both he and the City Council have been attacked for not treating the crisis with a sense of urgency.

He was, by most accounts, considering a bid for U.S. president. When he decided not to run in 2019, Garcetti said, "It may be out of vogue today, but I kind of believe that whenever possible, you should finish the job that you set out to do.” And so it was something of a surprise when he accepted Biden's offer to go to New Delhi as we will not finish out his term If confirmed. After he was nominated this past July he stressed his commitment to public service, saying, "Part of that commitment means that when your nation calls, you answer that call.”

In announcing the nomination, President Biden touted Garcetti's resume as a Rhodes Scholar, an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve for 12 years, and the co-founder of Climate Mayors, which led 400 U.S. mayors to adopt the Paris Climate agreement.

The mayor has also been criticized for the behavior of a top adviser, Rick Jacobs. A police officer who served as the mayor's bodyguard, Matthew Garza, sued the city last year claiming a pattern of sexual harassment by Jacobs that Garcetti ignored. The mayor's former head of communications, Naomi Seligman, made similar accusations about both Jacobs and Garcetti, in both a deposition and in a recent New York Magazine article.

Seligman's lawyer sent a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reading in part, "it is deeply disturbing that Mayor Garcetti spent years both ignoring and enabling Mr. Jacobs's appalling unlawful behavior, despite a City Hall policy of 'zero tolerance' for sexual misconduct, and is now engaged, along with senior staff members, in an attempt to cover up these failings."

During the hearing, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, asked Garcetti about the allegations, Garcetti responded: "I want to say unequivocally that I never witnessed, nor was it brought to my attention the behavior that's been alleged. And I also want to assure you, if it had been, I would have immediately taken action to stop that."

Shortly after the exchange, Seligman tweeted, "What about the victims and our sworn testimony on the abuse we endured and that @ericgarcetti witnessed and enabled? We are greatly disappointed. Human rights matter, here and around the world. #metoo"

All other questions Garcetti fielded from the committee involved the U.S. relationship with India. The two countries are considered "strategic partners," countries that work together but are not quite allies. Along with Australia and Japan, the U.S. and India make up the "Quad," a "strategic dialogue" aimed in part at countering China's influence in the region.

But there is also a growing concern over the treatment of Muslims in India. In 2019, the country's hardline government passed the Citizenship Amendment, which made it harder for Muslims to become citizens.

"Respect for human rights and respect for democratic institutions are strong element of our strategic partnership and values enshrined in our constitutions," Garcetti told the committee. He pledged to push back on religious discrimination, saying, "It will be a core piece of what I’ll be engaging with my Indian counterparts. I’ll raise these issues. I’ll raise them with humility."

The full U.S. Senate must sign off on Garcetti's nomination. Dozens of Biden nominees await confirmation, as Republicans have been dragging their feet on the confirmation process despite narrow control of the Senate by Democrats.

City Council President Nury Martinez will assume the duties of acting mayor, as she already does when the Mayor is traveling, if Garcetti is confirmed. The council will likely appoint an interim mayor to serve out the remainder of Garcetti's term. Several names have been floated for the post, including former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, former controller Wendy Greuel — who ran against Garcetti for mayor — and City Councilman Paul Krekorian.

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