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L.A. Mayor Garcetti in ‘confirmation purgatory’ as Biden’s nominations stall

President-elect Biden, left, and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti on Jan. 10, 2020
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, right, was named in July as President Biden’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to India.
(Mario Tama / Getty Images)

Nearly three months after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was picked by President Biden to be U.S. ambassador to India, it is unclear when the Senate might take up his nomination — creating a limbo at City Hall with no end in sight.

The confirmation process for presidential appointments is notoriously slow. At the same time, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and other Senate Republicans have been holding up Biden’s nominees, creating a bottleneck of applications on Capitol Hill.

Max Stier, president and chief executive officer of Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit that advocates for better governance, likened the nomination process to a “massive traffic jam.”

“If you’re betting right now, Garcetti is going to be in confirmation purgatory for a while,” Stier said.

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The dynamic has put Garcetti in a holding pattern, his potential departure possibly pushed back by months. City Council members, some of who are jockeying to serve out the rest of Garcetti’s term, are also left playing the waiting game.

Several longtime aides have already departed from the mayor’s office, which has seen about a 15% drop in staff compared with July 2020, according to city employee lists. On Friday, a public affairs firm announced that it had hired Deputy Mayor Breelyn Pete, Garcetti’s top aide on legislative and external affairs.

At the same time, public attention has shifted to the upcoming mayor’s race as candidates are pressed to offer solutions on homelessness, policing and other urgent city issues.

Garcetti and L.A. are going through what “feels like a break-up,” said Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson, likening the scenario to a couple that has separated, but neither person has moved out of the house. “It’s an awkward position.”

Garcetti was named in July as Biden’s nominee to be ambassador to India, an announcement that followed months of speculation about whether the mayor would join the Biden administration before his term ends in December 2022.

The mayor said last week that he expects his nomination to have a hearing in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations before the end of the year, but he didn’t know when the full Senate would take it up.

The uncertain timeline has Garcetti supporters wondering whether the mayor will end up serving his entire second term. Others, however, predict that his nomination will be approved in a matter of months.

The Senate has confirmed only two of Biden’s 64 nominees for ambassadorial posts, according to the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. An incoming president can pick 4,000 political appointees, including 1,200 appointees who require Senate confirmation.

Ambassador positions aren’t prioritized, Stier said, and the Senate has competing demands.

At the same time, Cruz, a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, has slowed down the nominee hearing process with his demands for sanctions over the construction of a Russian pipeline to Germany.

Garcetti has met with some senators who serve on the Senate committee, including Cruz, whose office didn’t respond to a request for comment. The mayor characterized his meeting last month with the Texas senator as “good,” but declined to provide details.

The mayor has traveled to D.C. four times since the White House announced his nomination, according to his office, including a trip that involved attending training for the ambassador post.

“Mentally, physically he’s moved on,” said Rick Taylor, a Los Angeles political strategist. “Most people I talk to think he’s a little disconnected from the day-to-day work of being the mayor, which is understandable.”

Garcetti spokesman Alex Comisar disputed that characterization. He pointed to the mayor’s schedule last week, which included going to events focused on homeless housing, clean energy, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, and a free public transportation program for students.

Garcetti also met with Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia L. Fudge to advocate for L.A. during one of his recent trips, a mayoral aide said. He’s also had conversations with other top federal officials about L.A. priorities while in D.C., Comisar said.

“Mayor Garcetti is a remarkably hardworking public servant, and those of us who work with the mayor every day see that he is pushing as hard as ever for results and progress on his agenda,” Comisar said.

Comisar also said that “all key roles” within the Garcetti administration are filled with “experienced, talented public servants who are working as hard for Angelenos today as their first days on the job.”

Publicly available employee lists show Garcetti’s office has gone from about 250 staffers in June 2020 — a figure that includes aides hired for Census work — to about 213 as of last month. One top employee is serving as both Garcetti’s deputy chief of staff and as deputy mayor of city services, according to the website for the mayor’s office.

Ana Guerrero, Garcetti’s top aide who was put on administrative leave in June after revelations about disparaging comments she made in a private Facebook group, is now on medical leave, Comisar said. Since June, she has continued to receive her full salary, relying on paid medical leave, sick time, vacation pay, holiday pay and more, according to the city controller’s office.

Comisar declined to say whether Guerrero will return to City Hall.

The uncertainty around Garcetti’s Senate hearing means that he could be in Los Angeles in late January, the start date of a court trial involving a former aide, Rick Jacobs, who is accused of sexual harassment by Garcetti’s former bodyguard.

The bodyguard, Matthew Garza, accuses Garcetti of witnessing the behavior and failing to intervene. Both the mayor and Jacobs deny the accusations.

Garcetti, who oversaw a pandemic that he has likened to fighting a war, pushed back when The Times suggested in an interview that the mayor seemed ready to move on from City Hall.

“I’m not relieved to be leaving,” Garcetti said during the August interview. “I want to be here as many days as I can, while recognizing that I have to answer the call of this nation right now.”

Under the City Charter, the council has the power to appoint an interim replacement if Garcetti leaves early. The charter also states that council president serves as acting mayor when the mayor is out of state or resigns.

City Councilman Paul Krekorian, who chairs the city’s budget committee, told The Times last week that the council “must appoint” a full-time interim mayor with deep background on the budget and other issues. He said he would be willing to serve or would support another individual’s appointment.

A spokeswoman for City Council President Nury Martinez, however, pointed to the charter section that states that the council president serves as mayor if the mayor is absent.

“In regards to appointing someone to fulfill Mayor Garcetti’s term, that’s all political games, and Council President Martinez is not interested in games,” spokeswoman Sophie Gilchrist said. “She recognizes L.A. needs steady leadership.”


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