With less than a month to go before he leaves office, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is pressing his effort to get the U.S. Senate to confirm his appointment as ambassador to India, a fraught campaign complicated by a Republican senator whose office is trying to renew doubts about whether the mayor and his staff mishandled sexual harassment allegations against a top aide.
It has been more than 16 months since President Biden nominated Garcetti as the U.S. representative to the world’s largest democracy. A vote on the appointment has never been scheduled, as Garcetti and his allies strain to reach the 50 votes needed for approval.
L.A.’s mayor has waited far longer for confirmation — nearly 500 days — than all others whom Biden has designated to be ambassadors, according to the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service.
“At some point, they need to get this resolved, because our effectiveness on the world stage is being harmed,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. “It’s a bad signal to India in that it diminishes the sense of recognition of their importance.”
The White House has continued to express support for Garcetti, who backed the former vice president when he appeared a long shot for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Garcetti and his team have focused on winning some Republican votes, after at least a few Democratic senators, including Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, indicated concerns about the harassment allegations. In an interview last week, Garcetti said his nomination has bipartisan support, though he declined to discuss the senators he has spoken to.
“This India-U.S. relationship is critical,” Garcetti said as he rode in a Veterans Day parade in Pacoima. “So I’m optimistic because a lot of people said, ‘Wait till after the election.’ We can focus on it now and I’m optimistic we’ll get it scheduled and get it done. I’m ready to serve.”
The White House and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will determine whether and when to call a vote on the India nomination. With a crush of more pressing business facing Congress — including raising the debt ceiling to keep the government functioning — the Garcetti vote could be put off until next year.
A Senate runoff election in Georgia could give the Democrats a 51st senator, potentially providing one more pro-Garcetti vote.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) has placed a hold on Garcetti’s nomination. In a brief interview this week, she expressed doubt that the mayor would get confirmed in the lame-duck session. Asked if she believed that he would ever get confirmed, Ernst said, “Maybe not.”
A staffer for one Democratic senator agreed that Garcetti’s path to approval appears murky, with his boss remaining on the fence about the Garcetti nomination and not anxious for the matter to come to a vote.
“It’s very analogous to when a house has been on the market for two years. You say to yourself, ‘There must be something wrong with this house,’ ” said the staffer, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the nomination process. “I just don’t see an upside for anyone, pushing this vote ahead.”
But White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters in early November that the Biden administration would “continue to seek the expeditious confirmation of Mayor Garcetti,” adding: “That is important to this president, a priority to this president.”
Garcetti has been stymied, at least in part, by Ernst’s fellow Iowa Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley, whose staff has focused on allegations that the mayor ignored allegations that a former top aide, Rick Jacobs, sexually harassed others in the mayor’s office.
In a report it issued in May, Grassley’s office contended that allegations of sexual harassment against Jacobs, a former deputy mayor, were “pervasive, widespread and notorious.” It also concluded that it was “more likely than not that Mayor Garcetti either had personal knowledge of the sexual harassment or should have been aware of it.”
Grassley’s staff has continued to pursue information about the controversy. A spokesman for Grassley confirmed that the senator’s investigators obtained information last week about two new individuals who alleged inappropriate behavior by Jacobs.
One of the men, a longtime civic activist in L.A., said in an interview with The Times that he spoke last week to two Grassley staffers, telling them that Jacobs greeted him on at least eight occasions in an inappropriate way — forcibly kissing him on the mouth while also usually grabbing his buttocks.
The activist said the behavior occurred when he met with Jacobs on municipal business and at holiday parties that Jacobs held at his home. In the last of the instances, Jacobs “squeezed” his buttocks when he met the Garcetti aide at his City Hall office.
All the other unwelcome greetings happened before Jacobs joined the mayor’s office, the man said. He said he didn’t recall an instance when Garcetti witnessed the conduct. He said he told his wife about the encounters, and she confirmed in a separate interview with The Times that her husband had complained about Jacobs.
The man, who is also a Democratic Party operative, said he did not want to be identified because he feared Garcetti or his allies might disparage him in L.A.’s insular political circles. He said he never complained to Garcetti or his aides for the same reason, and because he worried that he would appear homophobic.
When Grassley’s office contacted him last week, the man said he agreed to tell his story because he believed that Jacobs’ behavior seemed so brazen and routine that he thought Garcetti must have known about it.
Grassley’s staffers also confirmed that they are reviewing the deposition of another man who complained about Jacobs. In testimony given last month and reviewed by The Times, Paul Kadzielski, a former member of the mayor’s communications team, said Jacobs hugged him and occasionally touched or massaged his shoulders over a period of several years.
The deposition was taken as part of a lawsuit brought against the city by Matt Garza, an LAPD officer who alleges that Jacobs touched him and made crude remarks, sometimes in front of Garcetti.
Kadzielski complained that Jacobs told him he looked “strong” or “handsome.” He also testified that Jacobs also made racially inappropriate and sexually inappropriate comments — behavior so common that it was a regular topic of conversation among Garcetti’s communications team.
Kadzielski, who worked in Garcetti’s office from 2015 to 2020, testified that Jacobs stopped regularly touching him after Kadzielski told him that his behavior made him feel uncomfortable.
Asked if Jacobs ever hugged or massaged him in front of Garcetti, Kadzielski testified, “I can’t recall a specific instance.”
Kadzielski didn’t respond to a request for comment from The Times.
Similar to some others who have testified, Kadzielski said he had passed on his concerns about Jacobs to superiors in the mayor’s office, but that nothing happened. Garcetti’s representatives have used the new testimony to argue the mayor could not have fixed what he was not told about. Others have rejected that notion, saying Jacobs’ misbehavior was so routine the mayor had to know.
Jacobs has denied harassing anyone but said in deposition testimony that he may have hugged the officer. He also has said he may have made sexual jokes in front of the mayor’s security detail.
An attorney for Jacobs didn’t respond to requests for comment about the two new claims of inappropriate behavior.
Garcetti said the subject of the sexual harassment allegations has not dominated his many Zoom, phone and in-person meetings with senators.
“I’ve been clear, I think, and I think that the evidence is crystal clear too,” Garcetti said, that he did not know about Jacobs’ purported misbehavior. “The conversations [with senators] really revolve around India and the strategic moment that we’re living through and my qualifications. I haven’t had a single conversation that hasn’t ended positively.”
Garcetti owed his optimism partly to Biden’s continuing loyalty. “The president spoke to me personally,” Garcetti said. “He said, ‘Let’s get this done. Let’s get you over there.’ ”
Taylor Foy, a representative for Grassley, said this week that the two additional accounts of Jacobs’ behavior “raise more questions” about the accuracy of a report — commissioned by the city attorney’s office and completed by attorney Leslie Ellis — that found Garcetti, Jacobs and others had done nothing wrong.
Grassley intends to vote against Garcetti’s nomination if it comes to a vote in the full Senate, Foy said.
The White House has portrayed Grassley’s report on Jacobs as a “hit job” and stated that the claims “have already been conclusively debunked” by the Ellis report and other information.
Garcetti’s parents, Gil and Sukey Garcetti, continue to pay a lobbying firm to push their son’s nomination. The firm, McGuireWoods, has reported receiving $60,000 for the work, which the mayor said he accepts, perceiving it as a sign of his parents’ love.
Asked if he has a backup plan in case the Senate does not approve his move to Delhi, Garcetti smiled and replied: “No. I plan on getting confirmed.”
Times staff writer Nolan McCaskill, in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.