Earlier this week, the United States Senate confirmed Richard Rahul Verma to become the next U.S. Ambassador to India. President Obama nominated Verma in September, just days before Indian Prime Minister Modi's inaugural visit to the United States. The post had been vacant following Nancy Powell's retirement from the position in May. Verma made history by becoming the first Indian-American envoy to New Delhi. The swift speed at which his nomination proceeded through the confirmation process exemplifies the bipartisan support Verma and the U.S.-India strategic partnership enjoy in Washington.
Verma has spent more than two decades shaping U.S. foreign policy at the highest levels. His experience both inside and outside the government is exhaustive, and includes his time as an Assistant Secretary of State under Hillary Clinton, and as National Security Advisor, Counsel, and Foreign Policy Advisor to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). During his tenure in the Senate, Verma played a quiet but crucial role in securing passage of the landmark U.S.-India civilian nuclear deal. The historic accord is considered the centerpiece of the U.S.-India strategic partnership. Verma's nomination was met with virtually universal acclaim across the diplomatic, national security, business, and trade communities. The prospect of Verma becoming the first Indian-American ambassador to India also ignited fierce pride within the Indian diaspora in the United States.
This portended a smooth confirmation process for Verma. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) wasted little time scheduling a confirmation hearing for him on December 2 during the final days of the Congressional lame duck session. During the hearing, Verma provided keen insights about the multidimensional strategic partnership and President Obama's upcoming visit to India. He expertly fielded questions on a host of complex topics ranging from gender violence and intellectual property rights, to South Asian geopolitics and the unconsummated civilian nuclear deal. His performance garnered widespread praise from the Committee's members, who voted unanimously to send Verma's confirmation for a full Senate vote just two days after the hearing. One short week later, the United States Senate confirmed Verma by a voice vote, providing unanimous consent to his nomination.
Verma's rapid confirmation is remarkable given the acute political paralysis currently afflicting the Senate's confirmation process, particularly for ambassadorial nominees. Partisan bickering over changes to Senate filibuster rules has resulted in a huge backlog of dozens of would-be envoys waiting to be confirmed. By one estimate, the average wait time for nominees who have cleared the SFRC is 237 days. The Senate confirmed Verma in seven.
The swift speed at which the Senate did so reflects the deep -- and rare -- bipartisan support that both the strategic partnership and Verma enjoy in Washington. During Verma's confirmation hearing, virtually every Committee member spoke about the importance of strong U.S.-India ties, with Senator John McCain (R-AZ) asserting that Verma would be "assuming a post at a nation that may be the most important relationship" for the United States in the world. McCain's words are a potent reminder that bilateral ties are multifaceted, and touch upon virtually every field of human endeavor. From strengthening regional stability and the global economy, to promoting the rule of law and liberal values, robust ties with New Delhi are integral to fulfilling many American objectives abroad. The past decade has illustrated that a strong U.S.-India strategic partnership has become a key American foreign policy priority regardless of which party occupies the White House or controls Congress. Verma's atypically fast confirmation is an effective illustration of this salient fact.
It also reveals the profound respect Verma commands in Washington by both parties. During his confirmation hearing, Republican and Democratic senators hailed Verma as "a consensus builder," "uniquely suited" to become U.S. Ambassador to India, and someone with "excellent qualifications." References to his distinguished public service career and past record working across the aisle were also made. Several Senators voiced their support for Verma after the hearing, recognizing the depth and breadth of his experience. The praise echoed the approbation Verma received after the White House first announced his nomination in September.
Ultimately, a consensus emerged between the White House and the Senate that the diplomatic post to New Delhi was too important to remain unfulfilled and that Verma was the right person to fill it. They were indeed correct. With the US-India strategic partnership more important now than ever, the United States is fortunate to have Verma take the helm of the U.S. embassy in New Delhi.