Post of US envoy to India vacant for 18 mths, no clarity on confirmation of Biden’s nominee
NEW DELHI: The position of the US ambassador in India has been vacant for almost 18 months, the longest such gap in nearly three decades, amid reports that US President Joe Biden’s nominee Eric Garcetti faces an uphill battle in his Senate confirmation.
The post became vacant when ambassador Kenneth Juster, a political appointee of the former Donald Trump administration, stepped down in January 2021 after the change of government in the US.
The Joe Biden administration nominated Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti as the next envoy to India exactly a year ago, but the move stalled after he faced allegations of being aware of a senior aide’s involvement in the sexual harassment of colleagues.
Though there have been gaps of six to 10 months between US envoys assuming office in the past few decades, the last time the post was vacant for an equally long time was in 1994, when Frank Wisner presented his credentials more than 16 months after his predecessor Thomas Pickering left the position.
Since Juster’s departure, four diplomats have held the position of chargé d’affaires or acting head of the US embassy, with Patricia Lacina being the latest.
The absence of an ambassador has, by and large, not impinged on ongoing cooperation between the US and India, either at a bilateral level or at multilateral forums such as the UN and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, though people familiar with the matter said the current state of affairs is not optimal.
“An ambassador, especially one that has the ear of the US administration as in Juster’s case, can get things moving much faster than any diplomat in an acting capacity,” one of the people said.
Garcetti is one of dozens of Biden administration nominees whose cases have been stuck with the US Senate for months. Some, such as Ed Gonzalez, Biden’s choice to lead immigration and customs enforcement, have withdrawn their nomination due to the long delays. Gonzalez announced his withdrawal last month after his case was stalled for more than a year.
Garcetti’s case was “dangling by a thread in the Senate, with several Democrats continuing to express hesitation over the nomination”, the Los Angeles Times reported recently.
The nomination cleared the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January but subsequently stalled over allegations that he was reportedly aware that a former aide, Rick Jacobs, was allegedly involved in sexually harassing colleagues and making racist remarks.
Though powerful Republican senator Chuck Grassley recently lifted his “hold” on Garcetti’s nomination, he said he would vote “no” if the issue is considered by the Senate. Grassley’s office said an investigation by his staff concluded Garcetti “likely knew, or should have known” that his former senior adviser was sexually harassing and making racist remarks towards multiple individuals.
Garcetti, who has travelled to India several times and studied Hindi and Urdu in college, has denied the allegations and said he would have acted against Jacobs if he had been aware of the matter.