Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti faced a relatively brisk confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday for his nomination as U.S. ambassador to India, and responded to one question over allegations that he was aware that one of his top advisers engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment but did not take action to stop it.
Last year, a Los Angeles Police Department officer sued the city, alleging that the mayor witnessed the harassment on the part of Rick Jacobs, yet did not take action. New York magazine ran an extensive piece earlier this month in which four people who worked with Garcetti and Jacobs alleged that the mayor was aware of his adviser’s behavior.
Jacobs has denied the claims, and Garcetti has previously denied that he witnessed harassment.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) said that she had “some concern” over the allegations, and “I want to give you a chance to respond.”
“I want to say unequivocally that I never witnessed, nor was it brought to my attention, the behavior that has been alleged,” Garcetti said. “And I also want to assure you if it had been, I would have immediately taken action to stop that.”
Shaheen was the only senator to bring up the claims at the hearing, which also featured two other nominees, Donald Armin Blome as ambassador to Pakistan and Amy Gutmann as ambassador to Germany. Concerns raised by Republicans on the committee centered on donations that Chinese sources have made to the University of Pennsylvania, where Gutmann is president.
Garcetti also was asked about how he would deal with advance human rights in India given concerns that an immigration law discriminates against Muslims.
“If confirmed, I will actively raise these issues,” Garcetti said. “I’ll raise them with humility. It is a two way street on these issues, but I intend to directly engage with civil society. There are groups that are actively fighting for the human rights of people on the ground in India that will get direct engagement with me.”
Garcetti also talked about expanding the U.S. trade with India, telling lawmakers he would “endeavor to advance our ambitious bilateral partnership united by a free and open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region.”
In his opening statement, Garcetti said that he would “double-down on our efforts to strengthen India’s capacity to secure its borders, defend its sovereignty, and deter aggression.”
Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) introduced Garcetti, and cited the mayor’s work on issues like clean energy and in securing the Olympics for Los Angeles in 2028. Padilla and Garcetti served together as members of the City Council.
The New York magazine quoted Naomi Seligman, who said that when she was working at City Hall as the mayor’s director of communications, Jacobs pulled her into him and kissed her on the lips “for some long, uncomfortable period of time.” She said that she felt humiliated and reported the incident to Ana Guerrero, who was then Garcetti’s chief of staff, but was told that there was nothing they could do about him. Her attorney sent a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee raising concerns about the nomination.
Seligman tweeted during the hearing that she and other accusers were “greatly disappointed” that Shaheen did not raise specific allegations. Shaheen also did not cite the New York magazine piece.
Garcetti told Shaheen, “Harassment and discrimination have no place in the workplace, no place in our society, and I have zero tolerance for that.”
The hearing was far less turbulent than other recent confirmation sessions. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee who has challenged a number of other Biden nominees, was not present. The committee’s chairman, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), said that he would issue additional questions for the nominees to answer in the coming days.
Garcetti’s term runs through Dec. 11, 2022. If he is confirmed, the City Council could then appoint a person to fill the position through the end of the term. It also could call a special election to fill the vacancy through the end of the term, and appoint someone to hold the office temporarily until that special election’s results are certified.
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