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Will Bush Favor Federal Funding of Embryonic Stem Cell Research?; What Political Impact Will His Decision Have?; How Will These Studies Impact Humanity?

Aired August 9, 2001 - 17:00   ET


JEANNE MESERVE, GUEST HOST: This is INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Jeanne Meserve. Four hours from now, President Bush announces his big decision on embryonic stem cell research.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm John King in Washington. I'll tell you what insiders are saying about Mr. Bush's deliberations and where he'll draw the line.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jonathan Karl on Capitol Hill where no matter what the president decides, he's likely to upset some of his fellow Republicans.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm Bill Schneider in Los Angeles. I'll put stem cell politics under the microscope and analyze the stakes for Mr. Bush.

ANNOUNCER: Now, Judy Woodruff takes you INSIDE POLITICS.

MESERVE: Thanks for joining us. Judy is off this week.

It is one of the most difficult decisions to date of the Bush presidency with life and death implications and political risks as well. After many weeks of review, the president has made a decision on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Mr. Bush is at his Texas ranch preparing to deliver a televised address to the nation. Our John King and Jonathan Karl are here with the latest on the president's decision and the political pressure he faces. First to John King.

John, what have you learned about the substance of the president's decisions?

KING: Well, Jeanne, the president himself and the entire Bush team pride themselves on being able to keep a secret. The president has sworn his aides to secrecy, but we are getting increasing indications at this hour that this address tonight already shaping up as a defining moment of the Bush presidency, could also be a major test of his relations with the Republican right.


KING (voice-over): Mr. Bush worked on his speech in seclusion at his Texas ranch. Aides say fewer than 10 top advisers know his final decision. But two sources known to be involved in the deliberations tell CNN the president has in recent days discussed supporting federal funding in limited cases: On left over embryos at fertility clinics that otherwise would be discarded and only with the permission of the donors.

One of these sources used the term, "certain," in saying the president would back federal funding in limited cases. Both sources said Mr. Bush will make clear he opposes creating embryos for the purpose of stem cell research and cloning embryos for medical research.

Supporting even limited embryonic stem cell research would alienate many Christian conservatives and the Catholic Church.

RICHARD DOERFLINGER, U.S. CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS: This is something that has become a kind of test of the Bush administration's honesty and candor, if you will, because the president has said on a number of occasions in writing that he is opposed to funding federal research.

KING: Just this past May, for example, the president wrote the conservative Culture of Life Foundation and said, quote, "I oppose federal funding for stem cell research that involves destroying living human embryos." But many top advisers have urged him to reconsider, including, sources say, Vice President Cheney, chief of staff Andrew Card, and top adviser Karen Hughes.

Former President Clinton gave the OK for federal funding of some embryonic stem cell research, and Mr. Bush has been debating whether to reverse the Clinton policy or reverse his own campaign stance.

JOHN PODESTA, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: There are so many things that are promising to cure things like Parkinson's and spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer's, diabetes that I think that if he listens to his heart, if he talks to people who are really personally affected by it, I think he will change his mind. And I think -- frankly, I think the public would understand that.


KING: Now the president has said consistently that politics will play no role in his decision, but the White House recognizes the fierce political debate about this issue as the president puts the finishing touches on that speech he will deliver tonight. The administration preparing an aggressive political outreach campaign to members of Congress and interest groups on both sides of the issue understanding the president's speech tonight will put his stance out in public but will only begin the debate over embryonic stem cell research -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: John, tell us more about that outreach campaign. What will it consist of?

KING: Well, we're told even senior members of Congress won't learn the details of the president's decision. So just as the president prepares to address nation, senior lawmakers, including the speaker of the House, other members of the Republican leadership will be called at that moment. The White House already planning to roll out senior officials to speak on television tonight and in the morning and planning an array of meetings with groups like Catholics bishops, with groups like the Christian conservative groups, with groups like medical scientists and ethicists who support this research.

Again, the White House saying they won't discuss the specifics of the president's decision until he addresses the American people, but a very aggressive political campaign here. They understand no matter what he decides, he will be making some people unhappy. And perhaps for the first time, if our indications are correct, picking a significant fight with at least part of the Republican right.

MESERVE: John, have your sources indicated to you if there was a particular argument or person who crystallized this issue for the president?

KING: They have not. And the sources -- senior White House officials involved in the debate -- and it is a very small group -- who have had the president's ear on this. He has met with many outside people, more than 20 meetings, consultations, specific meetings on this issue, as well as he brought this issue up in meetings with doctors on the Patients' Bill of Rights. He had an event on breast cancer in which he discussed this issue with breast cancer survivors.

Aides say the president has kept close counsel. They say he's agonizing because of the conflicting advice. Many saying that human life, those embryos are human life; you cannot tamper with human life even if there is the promise, the potential of helping another human life. Others saying personal experiences like his chief of staff and others who have had family members with diseases that might be cured through this research. So they say the reason the president has taken more than two-and-a-half months is that he has been grappling with conflicting advice from people he trusts, very close advisers on opposite sides of this difficult issue.

MESERVE: John, what is your sense of how the White House is going to shape this and spin this to minimize the political damage?

KING: Well, you can't minimize the political debate in terms of the damage. One of the reasons the president will take this extraordinary step, a nationally televised address to the American people, is to show what the White House hopes to show has been a very deliberative, thoughtful process in which the president has discussed this issue with a number of people, all sides of the debate, if you will.

This is really not a two-sided debate. It is a very complicated debate: morals, ethics, medical science and research. So they're hoping to begin with what they hope to be a very serious presentation by the president not only of his decision, but of how he reached his decision and the respect he has for all those involved in the debate. And then again, beginning later tonight as soon as the president finishes speaking, a very aggressive campaign. The White House doesn't want to call that a political campaign, because they don't want to call this a political issue. But certainly a very aggressive public relations campaign to explain the president's decision not only to those who will be happy with it, but certainly and particularly to those who will be unhappy with it.

MESERVE: John King, thank you.

And now to Capitol Hill and our congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl.

Jonathan, what's the word there?

KARL: Well, Jeanne, this has been such a closely guarded secret that when one senior Republican senator who has been central to this debate called senior White House adviser Karl Rove to ask him what the president's decision was, he was told -- this was just a couple of hours ago -- "Sorry, senator, I cannot tell you. I just can't tell you." So with all of that secrecy, members of the Congress on both sides of this issue are eagerly awaiting the president's announcement tonight.


KARL (voice-over): Hours before President Bush's scheduled address on the issue, Senate majority leader Tom Daschle offered a gently worded threat: Decide against funding for embryonic stem cell research and face a losing battle over the issue in the Senate.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: My personal hope and the hope of a broad bipartisan majority of the Senate is that the president will choose to allow this groundbreaking research to go forward with federal funding.

KARL: Daschle can talk softly about this because he has a big stick: 61 senators, including 13 Republicans, on record supporting federal funding. But to support funding, Bush would defy not only the anti-abortion groups who helped elect him, but also most of the Republican leadership in the House and Senate. Their opposition was put forth most forcefully in a joint statement last month by House leaders Dick Armey, Tom DeLay and J.C. Watts that said, quote, "It's not pro-life to rely on an industry of death even if the intention is to find cures for diseases." And some rank-and-file conservatives are eager to remind the president of his campaign promise to oppose funding.

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: Let me be clear, there's no doubt that should the president change his mind on the issue of federal funding for stem cell research, that it will erode the credibility of the Republican message to pro-life voters across America.

KARL: But two sources tell CNN a recent internal GOP poll shows that the party's base -- religious conservatives -- by a narrow majority actually support limited embryonic stem cell research. And that is the position put forth by Senator Bill Frist, perhaps the most influential Republican in the Senate on health issues and someone who opposes abortion rights.

Frist proposes allowing funding to go forward but with conditions, including a ban on embryo creation for research; funding can be provided only for embryos that would otherwise be discarded. There must be rigorous federal oversight and donors must consent before their embryos can be used for research.


KARL: Whatever he decides, the president's decision is likely to be challenged by those who disagree with him. Some conservatives in the House have indicated that if the president were to go forward and allow some funding of embryonic stem cell research, they would propose legislation. They would ban such funding. So whatever he does from either side, the president's likely to face a challenge up here on Capitol Hill -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Jon, if the president does go ahead and allow for some federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, how fierce is the reaction going to be amongst anti-abortion conservatives?

KARL: Well, it's interesting, you saw in that piece the very strong statement that came from Dick Armey, Tom DeLay and J.C. Watts talking about relying on an industry of death and urging the president to decide against any funding of embryonic stem cell research.

But what's interesting is I've talked to senior advisers to all three of those men who say that their response to the president, should the president allow funding, would be a muted response and they would not come out and viciously attack the president because they believe the president has taken his time, he's thought through this decision, and that they would express their disagreement, but they would not come out and personally attack the president for that decision.

MESERVE: Jonathan Karl on Capitol Hill, thank you.

And we're now joined by one of the Senate's staunchest opponents of embryonic stem cell research, Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas. He is with us from Denver.

Thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: You're welcome.

MESERVE: Have you gotten a phone call from President Bush or anyone at the White House previewing the decision?

BROWNBACK: No, I have not. I talked to Karl Rove earlier today but I've not talked directly to the president nor do I know what the president's decision will be.

MESERVE: What was the substance of your conversation with Mr. Rove?

BROWNBACK: Well, just a deep concern about what takes place and a hope that the president stays with the campaign statements that he had made: that he is opposed to taxpayer funding of embryonic stem cell research. My own personal hope is that he substantially increases the funding for adult stem cell research. That's where the cure's are coming from. And that we go down that road.

MESERVE: If John King's sources are correct and the president instead allows some federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, what is your reaction?

BROWNBACK: Well, I don't -- I hope the president doesn't go down that road.

MESERVE: But if he does?

BROWNBACK: Well, my reaction would be then we need to back up and to engage the debate as to the legal status of the embryo. It's a debate we should have been having in the past really several decades. But what is the legal status of that young human? Is it is a person? Is it is a piece of property? And really, that's at the core of what's going on here is what's the legal status of the young human? And a number of people are siding the need to cure a number of these ailments, and I want to cure these ailments.

I think we've got a much better route to go on the adult stem cell where we're already seeing results in people using adult stem cells to cure things like juvenile diabetes. That's some very promising results there we ought to pursue rather than the research on the embryonic where we don't even have a good mouse model or a primate model that says that this will work.

MESERVE: But if the federal funding of the embryonic stem cell research is allowed, is there a legislative remedy that you and your allies will pursue in the Congress?

BROWNBACK: Well, there'll be a number of options that people will consider and look at it at that point in time. I'm just hopeful that the president's going to go more along the line of the adult stem cell. They're already is being pursued, as you know, a ban on human cloning.

The thing about it is when you start down this road of saying embryonic stem cell research and we can cure things like Alzheimer's and diabetes, which we all want to cure, a number of the researchers are saying, "Well, we can do this with embryos, but what we really need to do is to clone young humans so that the genetic material matches up." So now you're on the route of human cloning. And I don't think that's a route that most people want to go. That's the slope that we get on.

MESERVE: Indeed, the House voted against human cloning, but some people have felt that if there's future legislation relating to stem cell research, that the vote against human cloning gives them some cover, gives them some ability to OK federal funding for stem cell should it come up in a legislative form. Do you regret that the human cloning vote in the House went forward when it did? BROWNBACK: No, I did not, because these issues really are closely tied together and I hope we can bring the issue of human cloning up in the Senate right after we get back from break and stop that. Most of the public is opposed so we shouldn't go that route, we shouldn't be creating young humans just for research purposes, because it really all of this attacks the dignity of human life, which is each and every one is unique, it's precious, and it shouldn't be tampered with. We shouldn't be creating the clones and we really shouldn't be killing one human for the benefit of another.

MESERVE: Do you feel the White House was wrong to delay this decision as long as it did to in essence bring more attention to it?

BROWNBACK: No, I do not. Matter of fact, I think they should wait even longer and let the science further develop. Remember, this science is going forward on the embryonic stem cell research. This is about the use of taxpayer dollars for that research. And some of that research you're saying that it's really not going well.

MESERVE: Well, some people would argue, sir, that in fact it's better for it to go forward with federal funding because in this situation, the federal government will have some oversight, some regulation that it can impose on what's being done.

BROWNBACK: And it also puts our stamp of approval on it and says, "OK, here's taxpayer dollars, and we think then this is appropriate." Even if it is in limited circumstance, it gives the government's seal of approval to it.

MESERVE: Senator Sam Brownback, thank you so much for joining us from Denver today.

BROWNBACK: Thank you.

MESERVE: And stay with us for more on stem cell research and Mr. Bush's decision. This is INSIDE POLITICS.

ANNOUNCER: President Bush and the stem cell tightrope. Next, our Bill Schneider tells us what's in the balance.


SCHNEIDER: Leadership means making tough choices. President Bush is choosing his political identity.


ANNOUNCER: We'll flash back to some other primetime speeches that were pivotal for presidents. And the Catholic view. How will Mr. Bush's stem cell decision play with that key group of voters? Live from Washington, there's more of INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff straight ahead.


MESERVE: OK. And this late-breaking news. The launch of the shuttle Discovery has been scrubbed because of bad weather in the Florida. We are told that they will try to launch again tomorrow at 5:10 p.m. Eastern.


LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think because a lot of those embryos will be destroyed anyway or disposed of anyway. So I think that makes it even more difficult. But also there's certainly -- I don't know what he's thinking, these are all my own ideas, but there's certainly a life side of it as well when you think about the lives that could be saved by research.

I know I have influence on him just like he has influence on me. I mean, we've been married a long time. We have a very close relationship. And of course, we talk about issues and have influence on each other.


MESERVE: Those comments by first lady Laura Bush illustrate the pressures facing the president as he makes his stem cell decision and the moral and scientific impact of what he decides will carry a serious political dimension. CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider joins us now from Los Angeles with a look at what's at stake politically in tonight's announcement -- Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Jeanne, tonight's speech is a first for President Bush. It's the first time he's spoken directly to the American people on primetime television. It's the first time he's had to make a tough call on a divisive issue. And it's his first opportunity to define himself as a leader.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Remember the tag line from candidate Bush's convention speech last year?


SCHNEIDER: Well, leadership means making tough choices. And they don't get much tougher than the one Bush is announcing today. President Bush is choosing his political identity.

In that same convention speech, Bush promised to be a modern, pragmatic president.

BUSH: And we need a leader to seize the opportunities of this new century, the new cures of medicine.

SCHNEIDER: But then there's the matter of his promise not to spend federal dollars on stem cell research. Ever since he took office, people have wondered which President Bush the country was getting: the man of conviction who stands by his word even when it's unpopular, or a leader who is open and flexible, willing to risk angering his base in order to find shared values? Bush is under powerful pressure to stick to his pro-life convictions. How powerful? The pope. On the other side? Most of the scientific community, advocates for people with disabling afflictions, and public opinion.

Some conservatives believe the president can have it both ways. Remain true to his convictions...

SEN. BILL FRIST (R), TENNESSEE: I indeed am pro-life.

SCHNEIDER: ... but respond to other priorities.

FRIST: I conclude that embryonic stem cell research and adult stem cell research should be federally funded within a carefully regulated, a fully transparent, a fully accountable framework that ensures the highest level of respect for the moral significance of the human embryo.

SCHNEIDER: Anti-abortion leaders say they won't buy it. They claim that for President Bush to break his word on stem cell research will be just like his father breaking his word on taxes. But self- described conservatives are actually divided over the issue. Stem cell research is not a defining issue to the right like taxes. It may be a defining issue for the American public, however. The voters remember how Bush was advertised during the campaign.

KARL ROVE, BUSH SENIOR STRATEGIST: Bush is a different kind of Republican. Bush has laid out a new agenda for his party and for the country that takes the party into new directions.


SCHNEIDER: Tonight is President Bush's night to tell the truth. Will the real George W. Bush please stand up -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Bill, thank you.

And it won't take long to gauge the political reaction to the president's decision. After all, interest groups on all sides have had plenty of time to make their case and energize their supporters.

For more, I'm joined here in Washington by two players in the stem cell discussion: Robert Best, president of the Culture of Life Foundation. As John King reported, he received a letter from President Bush that outlined the president's opposition to embryonic stem cell research. And John Podesta, a former Clinton White House chief of staff, now a visiting professor here at Georgetown.

Mr. Best, let me start with you. In the light of the letter that you received from the president, in light of the fact that constituencies like your own helped elect him, if the president allows federal funding of the research, will you feel double crossed?

ROBERT BEST, CULTURE OF LIFE FOUNDATION: Well, my feelings will be along those lines, yes. I'm not going to concede this point that George Bush is going to back away from his commitments and his word. I think he's a man of his word, and I'm going to assume until 9:00 that he's going to stick by his written and oral commitments. MESERVE: But you must have laid out other possible scenarios. If in fact you do feel double-crossed, what will you do?

BEST: It really doesn't matter what I do. I think there'll be a very strong reaction among people who believe in the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception. I think they'll feel betrayed. I think they'll look elsewhere for another candidate in the future. I think it opens up the door to a third party, a pro-life party.

MESERVE: But this is a man who has sided with you in many instances. In fact one of the first acts of his administration was to stop funding to organizations that counseled abortion overseas. This is a man who has sided with you in many legislative fights. You would abandon him over this one issue of stem cell research?

BEST: Well, this is a defining issue, as your colleague just stated. It's not just a few cell lines that are at stake here. From this issue will follow therapeutic cloning and then reproductive cloning. You've seen in the Washington, D.C. in the last week two scientists -- one from Italy and one from Greece -- who are promoting the cloning of human beings. Once you start killing one class of human beings for whatever reason, inevitably, it's going to lead to a culture of death. And we can't predict where it's going to end.

MESERVE: Mr. Podesta, what's your reaction to that slippery slope argument that we've heard over and over again in the preceding weeks?

PODESTA: Well, Jeanne, let me start by saying that I think that President Bush must regret having made the promise that he made to Mr. Best and others. Now that he's really thought this through I think -- my guess is he's probably coming down fairly close to where the first lady was in your previous interview in which -- you have to begin from the beginning, which is these are embryos that are the product of in vitro fertilization. They would otherwise be destroyed.

So again, as we thought this question through -- and it was a difficult question -- we came to the conclusion that the life- affirming position was in those circumstances where you had donor consent, using the highest ethical standards and a full regime of regulation under the National Institutes of Health, as Senator Frist recommended. That's federal funding for this research should go forward because there's so much promise in this research in terms of providing life-giving cures to some of the worst diseases that we know.

MESERVE: Mr. Best, what's your reaction to that argument, that the real pro-life position is to look for cures for diseases?

BEST: Well, I have a number of reactions to that. Just to take the last point, there really isn't any evidence, not a shred of evidence that embryonic stem cell research will cure these diseases. There have been no human clinical trials. The trials that they've had on animals have not been very successful. The mice have developed tumors. It is really a very large leap for people to think that this is going to be the alchemy, the magic cure for these patients of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's and other things.

MESERVE: Mr. Podesta, if in fact President Bush does flip on this issue and allows for some federal funding, what's the political price he's going to pay?

PODESTA: Well, I think Mr. Best has laid that out, but I think he pays a much bigger political price if he doesn't do what I think the majority of the American people want to see him do, which is to come to the center. You know, he spent the last six or seven months on issues like the environment, the energy, tax bills, really moving to the right, sticking with a more conservative position.

I think this is a chance to do, as you pointed out what he said he would do in the campaign, which is to be more practical, come to the center, reach out to the people who are suffering from things like spinal cord injuries, children who are suffering from juvenile diabetes and give them hope.

And frankly, if he doesn't, I think he'll pay a much bigger price for that than if he just has to eat his words a little bit, break his promise that he made in the campaign and say, "Look, I thought this through, and I think the right decision is to permit federal funding of the research.

MESERVE: And we have to leave it there, I'm afraid. John Podesta and Mr. Best, thank you both for joining us.

BEST: I can understand why a Democrat would say that.

MESERVE: And we'll leave it there.

Is President Bush preparing to open a Pandora's box? Our Bruce Morton shares his thoughts ahead. And will medical options really multiply if Mr. Bush gives the green light to federal funding for stem cell research? We will ask our medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.




CHRISTOPHER REEVE: ... adult stem cells, then find that they are not capable of doing what we know that embryonic cells can do now. And five years of unnecessary research, to try to create something we already have, would cause -- well, a lot of people are going to die while we wait.


MESERVE: Actor Christopher Reeve and other advocates of embryonic stem cell research believe federal funding would help turn scientific possibilities into medical realities for people with spinal cord injuries and a number of other diseases.

But how soon, and are they sure? As Mr. Bush prepares to announce his decision on federal funding tonight, let's get a reality check from our medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

Elizabeth, just how theoretical is this? Is there any known date by which there will be cures for some of these diseases and conditions?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, there's absolutely no known date, Jeanne. Theoretical is really the best word.

Scientists have found that stem cells work for various things. In mice, for example, they've made paralyzed mice walk again, mice with the kinds of injuries that Christopher Reeve had, actually. But that doesn't mean it'll work for Christopher Reeve. I mean, they certainly hope so, and that's the natural progression of science, to go from animals to humans.

But many critics have pointed out, you know what? We might be destroying embryos for something where we don't even know if it's going to work. There's just a lot of hope, a lot of expectations.

MESERVE: If the president does approve some federal funding, what would the next step be?

COHEN: Well, I think the first step will be that if John King's story is right, scientists will be dancing in their laboratories, because they basically got what they wanted. They got federal funding to use these embryos that are left over in -- or they would get federal funding to use these embryos that are left over in fertility labs. You see here they're stored in there, in the liquid nitrogen, and there are some 100,000 of them sitting in fertility clinics across the country.

What scientists have said is that if they get federal funding to work with these cells, then the progress of the research would go much, much faster. They've had to rely on private funding up till now, and that funding is really a fraction of what would be available compared to what would be available if there was federal funding.

Most medical breakthroughs in this country are made when federal funds get behind the research. When you think about breakthroughs in heart disease and cancer, those were made with the National Institutes of Health just poured money across the country.

MESERVE: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks for giving us the real picture.

And the current debate about stem cell research, along with controversy over human cloning, have prompted some to dub this the summer of science.

Our Bruce Morton considers the issues at hand in our history of exploring the unknown.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You remember Pandora, Greek woman created by the gods who gave her many gifts? Then some mischief maker gave her a box, and she opened it, releasing a swarm of bad stuff.

Ever since, she's been our role model.

She comes to mind because of all the talk lately about stem cell research and cloning. Good arguments for and against both of those, but you know they're going to happen.

If President Bush decides to allow some federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, that may keep more of it in this country. If he says no, the research may move to other countries. But humankind will open the box. It always does.

Is cloning people a good idea? A lot of scientists say no, that cloning doesn't work all that well yet, that a lot of badly damaged babies will emerge, and what will we do about them?

But other scientists want to do the research or think there's money to be made, or both, so it'll go ahead. We'll open the box. We always do.

We opened a box called the internal combustion engine, changed the world, created the Industrial Age, and traffic jams. We opened a box called flight and changed the world and created airport delays. We opened a box called the atom and created nuclear weapons, which can destroy the planet, but which may have helped avoid a world war for the last half-century or so. From the same box came nuclear power, which is a blessing or a curse depending on who you talk to.

(on camera): Lots of open boxes. It's clear that what we are not good at as a species is stepping back, is saying, Let's put this on the shelf for 10 years and then take another look at it. Hard to think of any cases where we've done that.

No, if it's out there within reach, somebody is going to try it, probably without much knowledge of just what the consequences will be.

(voice-over): Who knew, for instance, before Hiroshima, that atomic bombs would end World War II, would threaten humanity, would maybe keep the peace? The answer, of course, is that nobody knew. We just went ahead and opened the box.

Same thing with cloning people. Bet on it.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


MESERVE: Will President Bush allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research? As we've reported, the president will address the nation tonight on his decision. CNN will carry his speech live at 9:00 Eastern.

And you can find more in-depth information on the politics, ethics, and science behind the issue by logging onto

The stem cell debate and its political divisions when we return. The pope has made his position clear, but some in the church are split. We will talk with two Catholic theologians on opposite sides of the issue.

Plus, why presidents go prime time and the impact of their appearances in America's homes.


MESERVE: And joining us now to tell us what he has learned about the president's decision on stem cell research, Bob Novak of the "Chicago Sun Times."

Bob, just how much pressure has President Bush been under on this one?

ROBERT NOVAK, "THE CHICAGO SUN TIMES": He really has been under tremendous pressure from the Republican establishment, the people who supported his campaign, almost all the White House staff, Karen Hughes, Josh Bolton. They really want him to come out with at least some kind of federal funding of stem cell research. And the argument is, boy, oh, boy, you -- we're going to -- we -- we're going to lose some support on the right, but they got no place else to go. You've got to go with the mainstream where it's going to be a terrible defeat.

That is really the real reason why that since May, when he had -- was firmly against federal funding of the research, he's moved over.

MESERVE: There is a decision, but boy, oh, boy, has it been closely guarded.

NOVAK: It really has been closely guarded, and nobody can find out exactly what it is. But I have been talking all day to people, particularly the people who don't want federal stem cell research funded, and they are all absolutely unanimous that they are going to be terribly disappointed tonight. They all feel the president in some degree will break his campaign pledge.

And there's just a gloom which has settled over the conservative base of the party, and particularly the churchgoing Catholics, who are really heartsick over this. They have no information, Jeanne, but they are certain, they just feel it in their bones that he's going to do this.

MESERVE: How are they going to react to this? John Karl was reporting earlier that he thought the conservative reaction might be somewhat muted.

NOVAK: I think what John said was that the politicians -- I think he mentioned J.C. Watts and Dick Armey -- they wrote a very -- and Dick -- Tom DeLay, who wrote a very strong letter to the president against research -- they're politicians, Jeanne. They're going to say, We disagree with you, but let's go on.

But the people are going to be very upset -- to some degree the evangelicals, but to even a greater degree the churchgoing Catholics who supported him. He wouldn't have been elected president without the active Catholics. There's going to be a great deal of angst among them, feeling that he has betrayed them, he broke his promise. They thought he was a pro-life president. I know all Catholics are not pro-life, but among the active Catholics, the ones that were pro-Bush, there's a very high percentage of pro-life.

So there's -- the non-politicians are going to be very upset.

MESERVE: And we will soon find out. Thanks, Bob.

And of course you will be looking at the political considerations of all of this later tonight on CNN's "CROSSFIRE." That's at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

And when we come back, a look at the debate within the Catholic community over this issue of stem cell research.


MESERVE: Pope John Paul II used a recent meeting with President Bush to reiterate the Catholic Church opposition to embryonic stem cell research. In a statement to reporters, the pope said the research violates church teachings, and he urged the president to oppose the practice.


POPE JOHN PAUL II: A free and virtuous society, which America aspires to be, must reject practices that devalue and violate human life at any stage, from conception until natural death.


MESERVE: For more on the Catholic Church and stem cell research, and the divisions among some theologians, we're joined by two guests. Father Robert Sirico is in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is the president of the Acton Institute, and he has also served as an informal adviser to the president.

Daniel Maguire is professor of moral theological ethics at Marquette University. He joins us from Milwaukee. Thanks for joining us.

Father (sic) Maguire, let me go to you first, if I might. We've heard the pope say he opposes this research, but you do not. How can you come to that conclusion as a good Catholic?

PROF. DANIEL MAGUIRE, MARQUETTE UNIVERSITY: Well, the pope has one reading of Catholicism, which is a possible reading. It isn't, however, and very fortunately, it isn't the only possible reading of Catholicism.

I come from -- the past three years, I've been working with theologians from -- and religion scholars from all of the major religions of the world, and I just produced a book called "Sacred Choices: The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions." Now, all of those theologians that I was working with, including Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, et cetera, all of them hold a different view from the pope, as do I myself.

What we're dealing with here is a -- an -- and a kind of a fetishism that is arriving with regard to embryonic tissue. I would prefer the wisdom of Thomas Aquinas, which does not speak of this as a human being in the sense of a person. You're dealing with a collection of cells about the size of the period at the end of a sentence.

And Aquinas said, no, early life like that is not personal, it doesn't have a soul, in his language. It may have a vegetative soul, eventually an animal soul, and somewhere around three or more months, it might have a spiritual soul. Prior to that time, it is human tissue, but it is -- doesn't have the status of a human being or of a person.

Now, to be able to use some of that tissue, which nature actually discards most of it, since most conceptions don't make it successfully to implantation, to be able to use that, the most pro-life use of that, since the tissue is going to be destroyed anyhow that we're talking about, would be to seek for cures within it. So...

MESERVE: Well, let's get a response to that, if we could, from Father Sirico. What do you say to that argument, that these embryos were going to be discarded in any event?

REV. ROBERT SIRICO, ACTON INSTITUTE: Well, I mean, this is similar to the argument that Dr. Kevorkian made when he said that you could use condemned prisoners for medical research. Certainly there have to be some moral boundaries on what science can do.

Mr. Maguire's articulation of Aquinas is somewhat anomalous in that Aquinas was not familiar with the science and the biology that we are familiar with today. I also question whether Mr. Maguire is really a Catholic theologian in that he disagrees with virtually every major tenet of the Catholic faith. Mr. Maguire would be in favor, probably of partial birth abortion in certain circumstances.

MESERVE: Well, let's not go down that route right now, if we could...

SIRICO: Well, I just want to question...

MESERVE: ... Father Sirico, I'm...

SIRICO: ... the honesty in advertising here.

MAGUIRE: Well, let me tell Father Sirico that apparently he's a little more strict than the Vatican. The Vatican has said of certain theologians like Father Curran and Father Kung that they may no longer present themselves as Catholic theologians. And I myself have even spoken -- I met Cardinal Ratzinger one time when I was in Rome. They have never said that about me.

So they're allowing that I'm a Catholic theologian speaking out of this tradition, and knowing it, I teach at a Catholic university...

SIRICO: ... said that about you...

MAGUIRE: ... I mean, the idea -- I'd rather you speak...


MESERVE: Father Sirico...

MAGUIRE: ... I'd rather -- I'd rather...

MESERVE: ... addressing credentials, I'd like...

MAGUIRE: ... I'd rather Father would speak...

MESERVE: ... to address the issues hand, if we can.

MAGUIRE: Speak to the issue, speak to the issue.

MESERVE: Father Sirico, the president has said that what he's going to try and do, what he's hoping to find, is a balance between the science and between the ethics and morality. Can you balance those things? Is that appropriate, to try and find a balance between those?

SIRICO: Well, the fact is that we can't possibly do everything that we can do. That is to say, the fact that you can do something technologically doesn't mean that you ought to do it. There have to be some moral boundaries or everything is up for grabs. And human life, then, loses its meaning and its dignity.

MAGUIRE: I agree with Father Sirico that there are boundaries. For example, I would oppose cloning to make a human being for two very good -- to make a baby for two very good reasons. I think sex is a wonderful way to make babies, and I'm very suspicious of any alternative that is presented. But also because there are too many perils. It's a very perilous thing. And I see it as a horrendous possibility.

But the idea...

MESERVE: Let's talk...

MAGUIRE: ... of using cells like this, and using it for a life- giving purpose, cells that are going to be discarded anyhow, I am -- most of the Catholics I know, Bob Novak was wrong when he said most churchgoing Catholics don't approve of this. I come from a family of seven churchgoing Catholic folk, and they are all in favor of this kind of research. It's...

MESERVE: Well, let me tell you what the polling says, that 56 percent of all Catholics favor federal funding of stem cell research using embryos from fertility clinics. And Father Sirico, let me pick up on that and ask you, given those numbers, is there going to be a significant political fallout for the president amongst Catholic voters if he does indeed decide to go ahead and allow some federal funding?

SIRICO: Someone once said that if you torture the numbers long enough, they'll confess to anything. I think if you break down that kind of polling data to churchgoing Catholics, which Mr. Novak was making the point about, you'll find a very different kind of thing.

The political prediction I can't make. I'm not a politician, I'm not a pollster. But I would say that if the president goes back on his promise, there would be profound disappointment in the pro-life community.

MESERVE: Two men of faith, the same faith, coming to very different conclusions. Thank you both for joining us here today.

Other presidents have used televised speeches to explain major decisions to the American people, but is it a winning strategy? Up next, a look at the increasingly difficult job of managing the official White House message.



SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Stem cell research has been demonstrated to be very, very promising on a cure for Parkinson's, on delaying Alzheimer's, on curing spinal cord injuries. Virtually every family in America is touched by one of these ailments, and the hearings that we have conducted demonstrate to me that there is more than a groundswell, there's really an avalanche of support.



REP. J.C. WATTS (R), OKLAHOMA: I don't believe that embryonic stem cell research is the route to take. I believe adult stem cell research is much more conclusive.


MESERVE: The political heat will be on President Bush when he gives his prime time speech on stem cell research tonight. The address is certainly generating media interest. But will it generate an audience?

Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" has some thoughts on that.


HOWARD KURTZ, CNN'S "RELIABLE SOURCES": Jeanne, the prime time speech has been a presidential hole card ever since Jack Kennedy brought that White House into the television age. But it's one card that's increasingly difficult to play.


RICHARD M. NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Stability and equal treatment is in everybody's best interest.


KURTZ (voice-over): Richard Nixon could easily command network attention for his dramatic 1971 announcement that he was imposing wage and price controls, not to mention his resignation speech three years later.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, August 1974)

NIXON: I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.


KURTZ: But presidents have used these addresses for politics as well as policy, such as Jimmy Carter's attempt to salvage his tenure with a speech about the country's malaise.


JIMMY CARTER, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are facts, and we simply must face them.


MESERVE: Ronald Reagan, a master of the art, took the airwaves in 1987 to say he was wrong to have traded arms for hostages with Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, March 1987)

RONALD W. REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are reasons why it happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake.


KURTZ: George Bush senior, like his son, wasn't all that fond of television.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, September 1989)

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But if we face this evil as a nation united, this will be nothing but a handful of useless chemicals.


KURTZ: Bush held up a bag of crack cocaine in his first prime time addressed, seized in the park across from the White House, only to be embarrassed by reports that federal drug agents had lured the buyer to Lafayette Park for that purpose. By the time Bill Clinton took office, there were lots of cable channels, and the broadcast networks sometimes refused to grant him their precious prime time minutes. But Clinton had no trouble getting airtime for his qualified apology after admitting to a grand jury that he did have an affair with Monica Lewinsky.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, August 1998)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Indeed I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong.



KURTZ: That speech, not surprisingly, did pretty well in the ratings -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Howie, were you surprised that President Bush chose this venue of a prime time address to announce his stem cell decision?

KURTZ: The whole stem cell story had really been getting away from President Bush ever since "Newsweek" did a cover story a few weeks back. The media have been filled with speculation and handicapping about what he would do, should do, could do.

And I think this is an attempt to get his own imprint on the story, but also to perhaps tamp down some of those stories and the CNN poll about this month-long vacation, and then give the impression the president is not just playing golf and clearing brush at the ranch.

And the networks, I think, which don't like to give up their reality shows and sitcoms, were not going to say no to the president with his first prime time request.

MESERVE: And likely ratings? Big, small?

KURTZ: Pretty big, maybe not of Lewinsky-like levels, however.

MESERVE: OK, Howie Kurtz, thanks so much.

The president will address the nation in a little more than three hours. He will speak from the original ranch house on his property in Crawford, Texas. We'll go to Crawford and hear from our Kelly Wallace next.


MESERVE: As we await the president's prime time address just a few hours from now, let's join CNN White House correspondent Kelly Wallace, who is right now in Crawford, Texas.

Kelly, what's the scene there?

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jeanne, you know, details have been in such short supply here with this White House trying to keep the president's decision a tightly held secret. So reporters like myself, we've been grasping for any details we can get. And we've been told that the president was expected to be doing some run-throughs at this hour of his speech that he will give about three hours from now.

Only a few advisers are with him at his ranch, including one of his top advisers, Karen Hughes, and deputy chief of staff Joe Hagen. We know this speech will last about 10 minutes, and he will be giving this speech from what's called the governor's house on his property. And that is the old ranch house where the Bushes lived until their new home was built.

Now, we've been trying to find out if the president happens to be nervous about this, his first nationally televised address as president. Scott McClelland (ph), White House deputy press secretary, not really having too much information for us, telling us, though, that the president keeping up his outdoor activities on this day, that he went running this morning, that he spent some time clearing out his nature trail.

I can tell you one big change, though, Jeanne, and that is the number of reporters and photojournalists and producers who have descended on this very small town of Crawford. Just take a look, you can see a row of satellite trucks parked behind the Crawford Elementary School with reporters and producers here. And again, before this, there was just one satellite truck here taking care of all of the reporters' needs.

So Jeanne, that's the latest from here. Back to you.

MESERVE: Kelly, thanks so much.

And that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. Of course, you can go online all the time at CNN's, AOL keyword CNN, and our e-mail address is

I'm Jeanne Meserve. "FIRST EVENING NEWS" is up next.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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