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LA Mayor Eric Garcetti is Joe Biden’s choice for India envoy, says report

Garcetti, 50, was a co-chair of Biden’s election campaign and remains a key political ally of the President. It was expected he would be part of Biden’s cabinet, but a controversy around one of his aides is said to have scuttled his chances.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi |
Updated: May 27, 2021 6:51:37 am
Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti. (Source: lamayor.org)

President Joe Biden is considering naming Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as the United States ambassador to India, American news outlet Axios reported on Wednesday.

Garcetti, 50, was a co-chair of Biden’s election campaign and remains a key political ally of the President. It was expected he would be part of Biden’s cabinet, but a controversy around one of his aides is said to have scuttled his chances.

Axios named several of Biden’s likely ambassadorial appointments — among them, former career diplomat and currently professor at Harvard University Nicholas Burns for China, and former Chicago Mayor and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel for Japan.

The appointment of Garcetti, Mayor of the second-largest city in the United States by population (after New York City), is being seen in American political circles as reward for one of President Biden’s steadfast political allies.

On January 9, 2020, Garcetti, who had briefly considered a presidential run himself three years previously, endorsed Biden for the 2020 Democratic nomination. At the end of April last year, Garcetti was named on the vetting committee to select the presumptive Democratic nominee’s running mate.

In November, Garcetti was named a candidate for Secretary of Transportation in the Biden Administration. There were widespread protests in Los Angeles against the nomination however, and Garcetti announced, without providing details, that he had turned down a position offered by President-elect Biden.

“As the administration reached out to me about serving, I let them know early this week that my city needs me now, and then I want to be here and that I need to be here,” Garcetti said at the time.

Garcetti had won re-election in March 2017 for a five-and-a-half year term. Under local law, he cannot run after two terms, and the election for his successor is scheduled in fall 2022.

Garcetti’s prospects for a Cabinet position were marred by a sexual harassment lawsuit against one of his former aides, Rick Jacobs, brought by a longtime bodyguard, Matthew Garza. The allegations received more attention after journalist Yashar Ali reported his own experience of being repeatedly and forcibly kissed by Jacobs when Ali was working in California politics. Ali alleged that Garcetti was aware of other instances of potential misconduct by Jacobs.

A spokesperson for Garcetti, and the White House did not comment on the Axios report.

Indian diplomats in the US told The Indian Express that Biden’s choice was similar to that of President Barack Obama’s for the Indian ambassador’s job in the first term, when he had appointed Congressman Tim Roemer to the position.

The tradition of making political appointments to the post of ambassador to India has been bipartisan, and signals that the White House calls the shots in ambassadorial appointments in countries where the US has vital stakes. Neither Richard Verma, who was appointed by the Obama administration nor Kenneth Juster, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, were career diplomats.

A diplomat said that a political appointee has access and leverage going beyond the US State Department, which is extremely valuable to be able to work the levers in the US administration.

The Biden administration has signalled that India will play a key role in its foreign policy. There have been several phone calls between the two sides at top levels, and at least two summits — Quad and climate change — where President Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have met in video conference.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar is currently in the US to meet with American officials, and Covid-19 vaccine makers and suppliers of vaccine raw materials.

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