By Lauren Fox, Ted Barrett, Jessica Dean and Kaitlan Collins, CNN
A number of Senate Democrats have privately expressed concerns about President Joe Biden’s nomination of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to be US ambassador to India, multiple sources have told CNN, raising concerns about whether his nomination will move forward.
A State Department official attended a weekly meeting on Friday for Senate Democratic chiefs of staff to answer questions and address outstanding issues with Garcetti, according to two sources, a sign that the administration is trying to work through the issues. But multiple Democratic aides told CNN that Democrats are in no rush to push the nomination forward until they get answers.
Several Democrats remain undecided on his nomination, a potential troubling sign for the White House, which will need all 50 Senate Democrats to vote “yes” if Republicans are unified in their opposition.
Concerns center around a former employee of Garcetti’s in the mayor’s office who has previously accused him of ignoring alleged sexual harassment and bullying by one of his former senior aides, who left the mayor’s office in October 2020 after a lawsuit was filed against him and the city. At the time, Garcetti issued a statement saying the aide had “stepped away from his non-profit and volunteer political work.”
Garcetti has repeatedly denied the allegations that he ignored the alleged harassment. His office released a statement previously, saying, “As the Mayor has said repeatedly and under oath, he absolutely did not witness and was not aware of any sexual harassment … and if he were, he would have put a stop to it. These claims were false the first time they were alleged more than a year ago, and they’re just as false today.”
One of the undecided Senate members is moderate Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. An aide to Sinema told CNN that the Arizona Democrat was still reviewing the nomination.
“As she does with all nominees, Kyrsten is doing her due diligence and thoughtfully evaluating the nomination based on her three criteria: whether or not he is professionally qualified, believes in the mission of the agency, and can be trusted to faithfully execute and uphold the law,” her spokesman said.
She’s not the only one.
Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York told CNN she has also not made a decision on the Garcetti nomination.
“I know Eric, and I’ll wait to see if the vote is called up and make my determination then,” she told CNN.
Garcetti’s nomination advanced out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with bipartisan support in January, and no Democrats have publicly said they will vote against him.
But the issue did come up briefly during his confirmation hearing in December, when Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire asked Garcetti about the allegations.
Garcetti defended himself, responding, “In regard to this specific case, I want to say unequivocally, that I never witnessed nor was it brought to my attention, the behavior that’s been alleged. And, I also want to assure you if it had been, I would have immediately taken action to stop that.”
He added, “Harassment and discrimination have no place in the workplace, no place in our society, and I have zero tolerance for that.”
A White House spokesperson said in a statement to CNN Wednesday that Biden still stands behind Garcetti, writing, “The President has confidence in Mayor Garcetti and believes he’ll be an excellent representative in India. His nomination advanced unanimously with bipartisan support in committee. The White House and the State Department are making calls to senators and working to earn bipartisan support for his nomination. He should receive a vote in the Senate expeditiously.”
CNN also reached out to the State Department for comment, but a spokesperson deferred comment to the White House.
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CNN’s Elizabeth Joseph contributed to this report.