Yesterday, the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack received a press release from the White House announcing that President Obama had nominated Scott Matheson, Jr — a former Utah Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate — to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. McCormack noticed that Matherson’s brother, Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT), was one of ten Blue Dog Democrats invited to the White House that evening and naturally assumed that Obama nominated Scott Matherson to pressure his brother to vote for health care reform. “So, Scott Matheson appears to have the credentials to be a judge, but was his nomination used to buy off his brother’s vote?,” McCormack asked in his late-evening blog post.
Less than an hour later, Politico picked up the story and by 9 pm, Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) was calling for an investigation of the White House on Larry King Live:
BACHMANN: Because today, the president offered a judgeship to the brother of a member of Congress. Tonight, the president has that same member of Congress at the White House, pressuring him to change his vote on health care. We need to have an — an independent investigation into this matter, because we’ve seen the Cornhusker Kickback, the Louisiana Purchase the union loophole. And now, the big question is, is the White House trading health care votes for judgeships? This is a pretty serious issue, Larry. …If you offer a judgeship to a brother of a member of Congress and the same night you have that member at the White House, where the president’s twisting his arm to ask that member of Congress to switch his vote on health care?
The right-wing rumor spread to Drudge and other conservative websites.
Of course, other than the timing of the press release announcing Scott Matheson’s appointment and his brother’s meeting at the White House, there is absolutely no evidence that the administration set up a quid pro quo. Rep. Matheson’s spokeswoman denied the story to Politico, calling the allegations, “patently ridiculous.” “Can you spell NO?” she asked. A White House official called the charge “absurd.”
In fact, no less than two Utah Republicans have vouched for Scott Matheson’s judicial qualifications. “I approve of that nomination. Scott is a very fine fellow,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz also praised Matheson’s nomination, saying, “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. Good choice, Mr. President. Good choice.”
This isn’t the first time the Weekly Standard manufactured false quid-pro-quo stories about health reform. In December, Michael Goldfarb floated a baseless rumor that the White House threatened to close an Air Force base in Nebraska if Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) didn’t vote for health care reform. Nelson derided the Weekly Standard as “yellow journalism at its worst.” Indeed, it still is.
Cross-posted on The Wonk Room.