On Meet the Press, Matalin peddled misinformation to discredit opposition to Bush's judicial, ambassadorial nominees


Republican political strategist Mary Matalin distorted the facts to discredit opposition to President Bush's controversial judicial and ambassadorial nominees. Appearing on the May 8 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, Matalin falsely claimed that "[w]e have a docket problem" because of "a legislative filibuster used for the purposes of stopping nominees" and that the "people who're coming out of the woodwork" to criticize John R. Bolton, Bush's nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, "are avowed, outspoken Bush bashers."

In fact, the number of current judicial vacancies is significantly lower than at the end of the Clinton administration. Moreover, Bush has yet to nominate candidates to fill most of the available positions, while the officials who have "com[e] out of the woodwork" to criticize Bolton include many conservative and politically unaligned Bush administration officials.

The University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Political Fact Check pointed out that most of the current vacant federal judgeships "are vacant because Bush has not yet named anyone to fill them" and that there were "lots more vacant courtrooms when Republicans resisted confirming some of Bill Clinton's nominees":

According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, there were 46 vacant federal judgeships as of May 4. But that is fewer than half as many as in February 2001, the month after Bush took office, when there were 97 [vacancies].

And most of the vacancies that remain aren't due to Senate delays. They are vacant because Bush has not yet named anyone to fill them. He's nominated persons to fill barely one-third of the vacancies, including 10 of 16 vacancies in the appeals courts, 6 of 29 vacancies in the federal district courts, and nobody to fill the single vacancy at the US Court of International Trade.


Furthermore, there were lots more vacant courtrooms when Republicans resisted confirming some of Bill Clinton's nominees. In December of 1999, for example, there were 67 vacancies in the federal judiciary - nearly 46 percent more than at present. And Clinton had nominations pending for just over half of them.

Matalin also misrepresented the American Bar Association's (ABA) evaluation of the 10 judicial nominations that Democrats have filibustered, stating: "If they [Democrats] want to debate these judges, the qualifications of these judges, all of whom have received the 'gold standard,' according to the Democrats, the highest regard from the ABA. I'll break down the votes." Only three of Bush's filibustered nominees -- Miguel Estrada, David McKeague, and Priscilla Owen -- received a unanimous "Well Qualified" rating from the ABA (ratings for all nominees are listed during the 108th Congress and 109th Congress).

Matalin referenced the testimony of Melody Townsel, a member of the Dallas chapter of Mothers Opposing Bush (a group that opposed the president's re-election), to assert that all individuals who have raised criticisms of the Bolton nomination are merely "Bush bashers." She also asserted that Bolton "did not try to dismiss people." But statements and testimony from numerous Republican and nonpartisan State Department officials refute Matalin's claims:

  • Larry Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, stated that Bolton would be an ''abysmal ambassador'' to the United Nations [New York Times, 4/19/05]. According to Wilkerson's Senate testimony, "Bolton was, like many lawyers, smart in the letter of the law, but very lacking in any real knowledge of the wider world" [Washington Post, 5/7/05].
  • Thomas Hubbard, who was appointed by Bush as ambassador to South Korea, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Bolton's Senate testimony "misrepresented Hubbard's views" about an antagonistic speech Bolton gave in 2003 calling life in North Korea a "hellish nightmare." According to a memo obtained by Time magazine, Hubbard told the committee that he "strongly disagreed with the tone of the speech, especially at the sensitive time in the negotiating process, and asked Mr. Bolton to tone it down. He did not" [Time, 5/2/05].
  • Former CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin, another Bush administration official, "told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Mr. Bolton's effort to oust a top Central Intelligence Agency analyst from his position in 2002 breached what should be a barrier between policy makers and intelligence analysts" [New York Times, 5/8/05].
  • Former State Department intelligence chief Carl W. Ford Jr., who described himself as a staunch supporter of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, testified that Bolton's behavior "brings real question to my mind about his suitability for high office," and said that "the collateral damage and the personal hurt that he causes is not worth the price that had to be paid" [Washington Post, 4/13/05].
  • Jack Pritchard, former special envoy for negotiations with North Korea, criticized Bolton for inflammatory rhetoric and said he undermined U.S. efforts to develop "an effective policy toward North Korea" [Associated Press, 1/7/05].

Powell himself has apparently expressed strong reservations with Bolton's nomination: "Alone among living former Republican secretaries of state, Powell has pointedly refused to endorse Bolton and privately told some senators he had concerns about Bolton's judgment" [Washington Post, 5/6/05].

Further, of the 63 former U.S. ambassadors and foreign service officers who signed a letter opposing Bolton's nomination, more than 70 percent served under Republican administrations, including President Reagan's former ambassador to the Soviet Union, Arthur Hartman, and his deputy ambassador to the U.N., Patricia M. Byrne.

Posted In
Government, Nominations & Appointments
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