Almost out of La La Land: Garcetti nom hits a make or break moment


Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was noncommittal when asked Tuesday about Garcetti. But the coming hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee has brought a sudden uptick in confidence among Garcetti allies inside and out of the administration who have spent more than a year trying to build support for him in the chamber.

“I think we have to take a vote, I think he has the votes. I think there will be senators that use all of their rights to delay the nomination but my sense is he’s going to get confirmed,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told POLITICO. “He’s been actively working, the White House and State Department have been working. We just had other priorities.”

Garcetti’s uncertain fate signals the beginning of a rare rough patch between Biden and the Democratic-run Senate chamber. So far, in his presidency, the White House has only seen a handful of nominees withdrawn. But other picks are sparking controversy, with some Democrats concerned over a current Biden circuit court pick due to his handling of a school sexual assault case. And the president’s pick to lead the Federal Aviation Administration is up in the air after Sen. Ted Cruz demanded that the chamber hold off on considering him.

None of those nominees, however, have been as high profile or gone on as long as Garcetti. He once seemed destined for a plum gig in the Biden administration after representing one of the 2020 campaign’s most prominent supporters. Allegations that he was aware of sexual assault and harassment accusations made by some on his staff against his former top political adviser, Rick Jacobs, have complicated that glide path.

While Garcetti has repeatedly denied knowledge of those allegations, some Republicans led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) concluded that he was aware — or should have been aware — of them. Meanwhile, Garcetti has spent considerable sums of money on lobbyists to rally support for his cause and push back against critics of his nomination who have been in touch frequently with senators urging them to reject him.

“Any support in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for this nominee is a bitter pill to swallow for all those who believe that enabling and covering up sexual harassment and abuse should be disqualifying for public office in America,” said Libby Liu, the chief executive of Whistleblower Aid. “The evidence is clear that he is unfit to represent our country anywhere in the world, and especially to the world’s largest democracy with a deeply troubled record on gender-based violence.”

Garcetti himself has been meeting with key officials and focusing on locking up support from Republican senators. His parents have hired a lobbyist to help shepherd the nomination. And the blitz seems to be making inroads with some in that audience.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she had “an excellent meeting” with Garcetti on Monday. “He clearly is very knowledgeable about India and we talked about the allegations that he was not sufficiently attentive to the sexual harassment allegations against one of his employees,” she said, adding that she wants to look at the Grassley report before making a final decision.

“I don’t think applying the standard of ‘should have known’ is fair,” Collins said. “If there’s evidence that he did know then that’s different. And that’s what I need to sort out. But I was impressed with him.”

Biden officials and Garcetti himself have been leaning into the argument that the U.S. has gone far too long without a top diplomat in India. But it’s unclear how far that pitch will go.

“We know it’s an important post, we need another nominee,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who had previously raised issues with the nomination. “It’s not just Republicans, there are Democrats too who are wavering on their support for Garcetti because of past actions in the office.”

Indeed, Democrats and others close to the process said they anticipate resistance and some nominal opposition to Garcetti’s nomination from within his party should it come to the floor. Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) said he’s read through Grassley’s report and remains concerned about Garcetti, adding that he has not spoken to the White House about it. Kelly, who has rebuffed Democratic powerbrokers’ attempts to influence his decision, is not expected to support the nomination.

Other Democrats declined to say where they stood should he come to the floor, with several contending they were still researching the matter.

“Some of the issues I want to go over and see how much culpability or responsibility is with him in regards to the sexual harassment,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

But Garcetti’s pick has dragged on so long that some senators — including at least one who for months had made her concerns known — conceded in interviews that they simply wanted it all to be over with.

“I’m ready to move on,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), who will back Garcetti. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) also indicated Tuesday that she’ll support Garcetti.

In addition to Garcetti, Republicans have also made former New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney’s nomination to the First Circuit Court of Appeals a primary focus. Specifically, they have criticized Delaney’s representation of St. Paul’s School in a school sexual assault case and his decision to file a motion that would have only allowed the plaintiff, who was a minor, to remain anonymous if she agreed not to speak about the case publicly.

Delaney maintains staunch support from his home-state Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, as well as the White House. His backers cite support from trial attorneys who have represented plaintiffs of sexual and violent crimes, as well as endorsements from former President Barack Obama’s director of the office on violence against women and the former director of New Hampshire’s attorney general’s office of victim/witness assistance.

Still, Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he’s reviewing Delaney’s record. And Sen. Richard Blumenthal
(D-Conn.), a member of the committee, said he hasn’t reached a decision yet on whether he’ll support Delaney, adding that he’s waiting for the nominee’s answers to written questions.

“I have concerns about the questions that have been raised about his tactics during one of the litigations and other potential issues,” the Connecticut Democrat said.

The White House reiterated in a statement that Delaney has a strong track record of upholding the rule of law, including taking action to protect vulnerable victims.

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