Six months after he was nominated by the Biden administration to become the next United States ambassador to India, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti appeared before a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday morning to face questions about his fitness for the post.
With critics on both the left and right gunning for the embattled mayor, many expected that his hearings would produce some fireworks. But to the chagrin of detractors who had hoped to cancel the mayor’s voyage to India, most of the senators on the Democratic-majority panel largely took it easy on Garcetti. He wasn’t asked about his handling of crises like homelessness or public safety. or about recent bribery scandals involving a former deputy mayor or the former head of the city’s Department of Water and Power.
But the mayor was pressed on one controversial topic—whether he ignored accusations of sexual harassment by a close former aide. The issue first arose after Matthew Garza, a veteran LAPD officer and member of the mayor’s security detail, filed a 2020 lawsuit against the city that accused the mayor of ignoring a pattern of sexual harassment by Rick Jacobs, a close ally and former advisor. Garza’s suit accused Jacobs of inappropriately hugging and groping co-workers and of making inappropriate sexual remarks. In the wake of the lawsuit, other aides stepped forward with their own allegations of inappropriate behavior by Jacobs and charges that the mayor ignored his aide’s blatant behavior. (Both Jacobs and Garcetti have denied the charges.)
Earlier this month New York magazine story resuscitated many of these allegations against Jacobs in a sharply critical story that one Garcetti loyalist described as a “desperate Hail Mary attempt to derail Eric’s nomination.” Instead, the controversy drew just one question from the panel, a softball from Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, who prefaced her remarks to Garcetti with “I look forward to your strong stance when confirmed.”
“I have read with some concern accusations that one of your advisors engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment while employed for you,” Shaheen continued. “You did not respond to those allegations in a way that would have stopped the behavior.”
She said her question arose out of her concern that the ambassador to India should be modeling the kind of behavior the United States wants to see from its allies, noting that India, the world’s biggest democracy, is “a democracy where the rights of women and sexual assault and sexual harassment against women has been rampant over the years. So I wanted to give you a chance to respond to those allegations.”
“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,” Garcetti replied.
“I deeply appreciate not only the importance of that question that I understand, but I’m very grateful for the opportunity to address it as well. Simply said, Senator, harassment and discrimination have no place in the workplace, no place in our society and I have zero tolerance for that. And I also know that words are not enough, we have to take persistent action to support and protect victims,” Garcetti added.
Garcetti touted his experience in efforts intended “to go after sexual harassment and sexual assault.” He mentioned the training of civilian teams to answer domestic assault calls.
“I have on-the-ground experience with standing up law enforcement to go after sexual harassment and sexual assault; civilian teams that roll out on domestic violence and sexual assault calls for police officers to be able to engage and help people extricate themselves. I will as ambassador, if confirmed, not have this as one of the issues but it is a core issue of my life and will be if confirmed as ambassador.”
Shaheen seemingly found Garcetti’s answer satisfactory. “I look forward to your strong stance when you are confirmed,” she told the two-term mayor.
Garcetti was introduced to the panel by California Senator Alex Padilla, who served with Garcetti on the LA City Council for several years. Sen. Padilla called Garcetti’s credentials “impressive” and highlighted that the mayor is a former Rhodes scholar, Columbia University graduate, and L.A. 2028 Olympics committee chair. His mother and father, Gil and Sukey Garcetti were on hand to support his nomination, and the mayor credited a family visit to India in 1990 for instilling in him an early fascination with India after he spoke of his wife Amy and daughter Maya, who were back in LA. “Good luck with your science test today, honey,” he said to his daughter.
“I’m honored to appear before you today as President Biden’s nominee to be an ambassador from the United States to the Republic of India,” he said.
Garcetti fielded questions alongside Donald Armin Blome, a previous ambassador to Tunisia, who is up for nomination as ambassador to Pakistan, and Dr. Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, nominated by the Biden administration to serve as U.S. ambassador to Germany.
The remainder of Garcetti’s portion of the hearing dealt with the mayor’s pledges to uphold human rights in India and to confront discrimination against the large Muslim population. He also vowed to bolster free trade, strengthen India’s capacity to secure its borders and to help the country fight terrorism.
If the committee votes to approve his nomination, Garcetti will face a full vote of the Senate before he is officially confirmed.