Right-wing media continue baseless smear that Obama is "offering judgeships to secure health care votes"

››› ››› JUSTIN BERRIER

Right-wing media figures have continued to attack President Obama's appointment of Scott Matheson to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, suggesting that the appointment was made to influence his brother, Rep. Jim Matheson's (D-UT) vote on health care reform. Those pushing the smear have cited no evidence to support their claims and have acknowledged Matheson's qualifications for the job; indeed, his appointment enjoys broad support and, according to Republican Sen. Bob Bennett, "has been in the works for a long time" and was not made in exchange "for votes on health care."

Despite no evidence, right-wing media continue attacking Matheson appointment

McCormack -- who started the smear -- said there was "probably not" an "explicit quid pro quo," continuing to advance the attack. In a March 3 post, The Weekly Standard's John McCormack started the rumor, writing, "Obama Now Selling Judgeships for Health Care Votes? Obama names brother of undecided House Dem to Appeals Court." Without providing any evidence to support his allegation, McCormack asked if Scott Matheson's judicial nomination was "used to buy off his brother's vote." The following day, during an appearance on Fox News' Your World, McCormack said that "obviously" it is "hard to know" whether Matheson's appointment was made to influence his brother's vote. He went on to say, "I don't know when the initial discussions took place" on Matheson's appointment, adding, "Was there an explicit quid pro quo? Probably not." Nonetheless, McCormack claimed it is a "reasonable question to ask" if there was an "I scratch your back, you're going to scratch mine, on the nomination process."

Big Government: "Let the Bribes Begin: Obama Offering Judgeships to Secure Health Care Votes." In a March 3 Big Government post, SusanAnne Hiller claimed Obama was "offering judgeships to secure health care votes." Hiller suggested Matheson was unqualified for the position, claiming that it "seems that Matheson is hurdling a few career steps to become a judge. Wonder how his brother will vote now. After all, he did vote 'no' the first time around on health care and the House is just not that fond of the Senate bill." In fact, as Media Matters for America has noted, while Matheson voted against the House's health care bill, he has long made more favorable comments about the Senate's version of health care reform, of which Obama's proposal largely mirrors.

Hayes acknowledges Matheson's record but still claims his appointment "looks" and "smells funny." On the March 4 edition of Fox News' Special Report, McCormack's fellow Weekly Standard writer Steve Hayes admitted that Matheson has "an impressive record, nobody would deny that, nobody would dispute that" but claimed it "certainly smells funny; I mean, it looks funny, the timing of it looks funny." After guest host Chris Wallace pointed out that the White House said they were "vetting this for months," Hayes admitted, "That may in fact be true, that they were vetting it for months," but added that "the question is why the timing now, at this moment -- this crucial moment of the health care debate."

Fox & Friends: "Quid pro vote?" On the March 5 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, after co-host Brian Kilmeade asked, "What could possibly win over Jim Matheson?" co-host Steve Doocy replied, "There's a very curious thing. Just as the White House is putting pressure on this particular fella and other Democrats to go their way, this guy's brother get's a lifetime job for the federal government." Co-host Gretchen Carlson noted that Matheson was "well-qualified, by the way, to become a judge," but after reporting that Obama had promised that there would be no more deals in health care, Kilmeade responded, "Maybe he had his fingers crossed." Doocy then asked whether this was "just a crazy coincidence" or a "quid pro vote."

Fox & Friends suggest Matheson nomination would make it illegal for his brother to vote yes on health care reform. On the March 5 edition of Fox & Friends, senior legal analyst Andrew Napolitano cited the Honest Services Act to suggest that Rep. Matheson would be breaking the law by voting yes on health care reform, because "you can't offer a member of Congress anything of value" in exchange for their votes. Carlson asked, "Does this almost put more pressure on the congressman, the brother, to vote no on health care, because now it's being exposed?" Doocy claimed the "White House may have inadvertently shot themselves in the foot," to which Napolitano replied, "It will depend on how intellectually honest Congressman Matheson is. If he does the right thing, they'll both have federal jobs. If he does the wrong thing, he'll be looking for a job."

Utah Republicans support Matheson, deny "vote buying"

Matheson has reportedly been in the running for the appointment since June 2009. The Salt Lake Tribune reported on June 9, 2009, that "Matheson already has let the White House and Utah's senators know he would like to be considered" for the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals:

A slot -- expected to be filled by a Utahn -- will be available at the end of August, when Judge Michael McConnell, who teaches law at the University of Utah, officially will resign.

Naming a replacement won't happen fast. It may take President Barack Obama months to nominate someone. But Matheson already has let the White House and Utah's senators know he would like to be considered.

Sen. Bennett says Matheson appointment "has been in the works for a long time" and was "not" made to secure "votes on health care." According to Politico, Sen. Bob Bennett's (R-UT) spokeswoman, Tara DiJulio, released a statement regarding Scott Matheson's appointment on March 4, saying, "Sen. Bennett has heard of all kinds of pressure being applied and offers being made to Democrats for votes on health care, but Scott Matheson's nomination is not one of those because it has been in the works for a long time."

Rep. Chaffetz is "very pleased that President Obama selected" Matheson. Utah's Deseret News reported that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) congratulated Obama on his selection. From a March 3 Deseret News article:

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, also offered his "warm congratulations" upon hearing the news and also praised the president for selecting Matheson, saying "Good choice, Mr. President. Good choice."

"I'm very pleased that President Obama selected Scott to serve as a judge on the federal bench," Chaffetz continued. "His distinguished scholarship as an attorney and law school dean, and his devoted public service to Utah and to the United States, make him an excellent nominee."

Salt Lake Tribune: Hatch "said he knew Scott Matheson was going to be the nominee more than a month ago and disputes any idea that Obama was trying to get a vote for the nomination." A March 5 Salt Lake Tribune article noted that "pretty much everyone who knows the Mathesons" have "called the claim simply absurd" and cited several Utah Republicans who have disputed the claim that Matheson's nomination was made to secure his brother's vote. From The Salt Lake Tribune:

Without regard for the veracity of the claim, the blogosphere erupted into a fiery clatter that President Barack Obama was buying votes with judgeships that found its way into mainstream news outlets and eventually prompted a Republican congresswoman to call for an investigation.

Rep. Jim Matheson called the claim simply absurd, as did the White House, Sen. Orrin Hatch and pretty much everyone who knows the Mathesons.

[...]

[Sen. Orrin] Hatch said he knew Scott Matheson was going to be the nominee more than a month ago and disputes any idea that Obama was trying to get a vote for the nomination.

"I can assure you [of] that," Hatch said. "I don't think Jim would change because of it anyway."

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, questioned the timing of the nomination, coming as the White House makes an earnest press for action on health care, but Chaffetz says he still finds it hard to believe Obama was trying to buy Matheson's vote.

"It should be crystal clear that Scott Matheson is eminently qualified, and I applaud the president for appointing him," Chaffetz said. "The timing, I can see why it raises eyebrows. [But] I find it hard to believe. I see no evidence" of vote buying.

Utah Republican Party Chairman Dave Hansen noted how "coincidental" the appointment was on his Facebook page but when questioned about it said he really just thinks the timing is odd.

"Yes, he is qualified, but there are a lot of qualified people in this town," Hansen said in an interview. "The timing, it looks a little funny."

Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, also says Obama should have named Scott Matheson to the judge seat months ago but doesn't buy an ounce of the conspiracy theory.

"I have no sympathy for any rumors of vote buying with Representative Matheson on his brother," said Jowers. "Scott Matheson was the consensus choice months ago."

Hatch praised Matheson nomination and said Matheson "is a capable, bright attorney whose experience has prepared him for judicial service." The Associated Press reported on March 3 that "[t]he nomination was also praised by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who reiterated that Matheson's experience has prepared him well for the position":

The nomination was also praised by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who reiterated that Matheson's experience has prepared him well for the position.

"I'm pleased President Obama has nominated Scott Matheson to fill the vacancy on the 10th Circuit," Hatch said. "I've known Scott a long time, and he is a capable, bright attorney whose experience has prepared him for judicial service. The Matheson family has had a significant impact on Utah and can rightly be proud of Scott's nomination."

Rep. Matheson's office and White House have called the smear "ridiculous" and "absurd." Noting that McCormack's "report raises the question but doesn't answer it," Politico's Chris Frates reported that Rep. Matheson's spokeswoman "called the question 'patently ridiculous,' saying there was no deal made between her boss and the president that guranteed [sic] Scott Matheson's nomination in exchange for Rep. Matheson's vote." Frates later noted that a "White House official calls the charge 'absurd.' 'Scott Matheson is a leading law scholar and has served as a law school dean and U.S. Attorney. He's respected across Utah and eminently qualified to serve on the federal bench,' the official said."

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