WASHINGTON — The Senate voted 52-42 on Wednesday to confirm former Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti to be the next U.S. ambassador to India.
The long-delayed Garcetti nomination grew unusually contentious and sparked some last-minute drama. Several Democrats voted against advancing his nomination, but enough Republicans backed Garcetti to give the U.S. its first permanent ambassador to India under President Joe Biden, more than two years into his term.
“The United States-India relationship is extremely important, and it’s a very good thing we now have an ambassador,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said.
First nominated in July 2021, Garcetti had been held up in part over concerns about how he handled sexual misconduct claims against a former aide while he was mayor. Garcetti has denied wrongdoing.
The delay in sending a permanent ambassador to New Delhi has vexed many lawmakers in both parties, considering the emphasis the Biden administration has put on the country as a strategic and geopolitical partner, including as a bulwark against China.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, said India is the “largest democracy in the world,” a key “ally of the U.S.” and “part of the Quad,” the security alliance that also includes Australia, Japan and the U.S.
“This is a really important relationship, getting more important, and they deserve a confirmed ambassador. They do,” Kaine said. “If you don’t confirm an ambassador, the nation kind of receives the message ‘I guess this must not be that important.’ And we don’t want to send that message to any nation, but especially not India.”
Some Republicans questioned the qualifications of Garcetti, who served as a national co-chair to Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign.
“I just don’t think he’s qualified — especially with all the questions that are still circling around his previous tenure,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., referring to Garcetti’s time as mayor.
The vote led to an unusual ideological scramble. Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona opposed the nomination. But a group of Republicans voted yes and helped secure the necessary support, including Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Steve Daines of Montana, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Todd Young of Indiana.
Hirono said earlier Wednesday that there was additional “information that was given to me in confidence, but very credible, which is leading to my no vote.” She wouldn’t say what that information was.
Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., who previously supported Garcetti in committee, voted against advancing the nomination Wednesday, attributing his switch to new information he had learned.
Garcetti’s nomination was approved by the Foreign Relations Committee last week and cleared a procedural vote earlier on Wednesday by a margin of 52 to 42, all but assuring confirmation.
“It’s a growing economy and it’s one of our most critical strategic relationships,” said Hagerty, himself a former U.S. ambassador to Japan. “And to not have an ambassador there, I think, sends entirely the wrong message.”
Ryan Nobles, Ali Vitali and Alexandra Bacallao contributed.