Congressman Jim Matheson responded to the story about his brother's nomination to the federal court--just as President Obama is trying to persuade the congressman to switch his vote from No to Yes on health care--with this statement to Fox News:
"I am happy for my brother... The federal 10th Circuit Court will gain a judge devoted to judicial integrity, fairness and knowledge of the law. The Weekly Standard's piece is rubbish."
By pretending that the issue is whether or not Scott Matheson is qualified to be a judge, Congressman Matheson and Jonathan Chait are deploying a "weapon of mass distraction," to quote another estimable Democrat, Alan Grayson. No one has questioned Scott Matheson's qualifications; my original post included his sterling credentials, as detailed in a White House press release.
The real question is whether or not the White House used the nomination to influence Congressman Matheson's vote on health care. Did the White House engage in an explicit quid pro quo, i.e., did someone in the administration threaten to hold up the nomination until Matheson agreed in private to vote for the bill?
Or maybe White House officials simply hoped that if they scratched Matheson's back with the nomination, he would scratch theirs with a vote for the health care bill?
Or perhaps the nomination was made solely based on judicial qualification, its timing a coincidence, and politics didn't play a factor at all? Of course, even DNC Chairman Tim Kaine finds this final scenario laughable.
For what it's worth, my personal opinion is that the second scenario is most likely. An explicit quid pro quo would be incredibly dangerous to Obama if word leaked. Then again, we can't rule it out. We know how important the health care bill is to him, and we already know of two examples in which the Obama administration has offered high-ranking administration jobs to Democratic Senate candidates in exchange for their dropping out of primaries against sitting senators.
Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak admitted he was offered a job--in all likelihood as Secretary of the Navy--to drop his campaign against Arlen Specter. The Denver Post reported that, according to several sources, Democrat Andrew Romanoff was offered the top job at USAID if he dropped his campaign against Senator Bennet in Colorado.
Then there's perhaps the more illustrative example of Army Secretary John McHugh, the former Republican congressman whose retirement led to the election of a Democrat in his seat. Does anyone really think politics had nothing to do with that appointment?
McHugh had a near perfect pro-life voting record spanning many years, but then went zero-for-three on pro-life votes following his nomination. McHugh refused to say why he changed his voting behavior. Is it unreasonable to ask if Matheson, like McHugh, would mysteriously begin voting differently after the White House had just done his family a big favor?
Politico reporter Chris Frates doesn't cite the Sestak, Romanoff, or McHugh examples. He seems to think that a denial by Matheson and the White House sufficiently "knocks down" vote-trading questions--as if "both the President and Congressman Matheson would have had to complete and file a copy of Federal Form 2010-EYE-KAN-BE-BRIBED," in the words of Jazz Shaw.
McHugh, as the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, was qualified for the job he was offered. So was Sestak, a former admiral, if he was offered the Navy Secretary post. Their qualifications, however, do not make these deals squeaky clean.
So, if the Obama White House would nominate people to be Navy secretary or Army secretary for political gain, couldn't it do the same for a federal judgeship?
We're simply left to wonder. As Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News last night:
I'm agnostic about this one, Matheson. Yes he has all qualities to be on the court. On the other hand, I'm sure his consideration has been going on for a while, but there are others under consideration. There are hundreds of lawyers and judges who want to be on the circuit. A lot of the time it's a lifetime appointment.
And it's a step up to the Supreme Court eventually, or at least it's the channel, the way that you get there. And it is odd that the timing, it should all happen right now.