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Stem Cell Debate Heats Up in Election '04

Aired August 9, 2004 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala, on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson. In the CROSSFIRE: The political lines are drawn over stem cell research. On one side a call for expanded research.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What if we could discover the cure to Alzheimer's and AIDS and spinal cord problems and diabetes? What if we had the courage to do stem cell research and advance the cause of America?

ANNOUNCER: On the other side, a warning about the implications.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: We'd go down a dangerous slippery slope when we try to divorce ethics from science.

ANNOUNCER: Even the memory of President Ronald Reagan is being drawn into the debate.


Live from the George Washington University, James Carville and Robert Novak.


ROBERT NOVAK, HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. Democrats are trying to score political points by making scientifically unjustified claims about stem cell research. They cynically traded on President Ronald Reagan's death by parading his son at their convention.

Kerry campaigners also tried to exploit Nancy Reagan's love for her husband as it demands that President Bush change his principled position on stem cell research.

JAMES CARVILLE, HOST: The argument is about how stem cell lines will be needed to find the best way to cure those with diabetes and spinal cord injuries. We'll debate that and the politics of this much needed research right after the best little political briefing in television, our "CROSSFIRE Political Alert."

The president held another "Ask President Bush" town meeting today, this one in Northern Virginia. As a resident of Northern Virginia, I wasn't invited, I wonder why? These are the questions I would have asked President Bush.

Number one, why did you plunge our country into debt and not created a single job?

Number two, where are the weapons of mass destruction?

Number three, tell me again, what are the ties between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein?

Number four, why have health care costs risen 40 percent since you took office?

And number five, you ran on being honest and trustworthy, so why do the polls show more Americans view John Kerry as more honest and trustworthy than you are?

NOVAK: You know, James, the reason they didn't invite you in the town meeting is that the Secret Service wouldn't let you in there. They have some concern for the president's safety...

CARVILLE: He would be very unsafe if I asked him these questions. He couldn't answer one.

NOVAK: The other fact of the matter is it's so boring. I mean, I hope because I like to see a good debate, that the Democrats don't take your advice and go through that stale stuff. I'd like to see John Kerry paint of vision -- a positive vision for America.

CARVILLE: You think plunging the nation in $5 trillion of debt is stale? You think not creating a single job is stale? You think people's health care costs going up 40 percent is stale? I think it's real. I think it hits people right where they feel it and that's why they are going to vote these people out. It's not stale.

NOVAK: It looks like Barack Obama, the rock star of the Democratic National Convention, would go unopposed in the U.S. Senate race in Illinois. That would have handed Obama a license to travel the whole country for Democratic candidates. But Alan Keyes came to the rescue by becoming the Republican nominee. Democrats complain that Keyes lives in Maryland. But where did Bobby Kennedy and Hillary Clinton live before they became senators from New York?

Alan Keyes probably isn't going to win, but he is a terrific debater who won't give Obama a free pass for is extreme left wing views. Who knows? The voters in my native state of Illinois might even come to their senses and vote for Alan.

CARVILLE: So, do you know when Senator Clinton ran from New York, none of these conservatives criticized her. Nobody (UNINTELLIGIBLE), all these people, I haven't heard one conservative say there is anything wrong with Alan Keyes. I agree. The Constitution provides that he can run, but where's all the outrage when it said she couldn't -- you know, she was a native of Illinois, she was running for the Senate for New York.

NOVAK: Would you like to give you an answer?


NOVAK: Because Alan Keyes is a principle conservative and Hillary Clinton is an opportunist.

CARVILLE: I agree with you, they can do whatever they want...

NOVAK: That's exactly right.

CARVILLE: Thank you, you're an honest man, Bob.

Now, be forewarned, this story is so screwy it is going to require some real concentration. This is a story of how idiotic the Bush administration's Iraq policy is. We went to war on fabricated evidence about weapons of mass destruction from a crook named Ahmed Chalabi. Then we've established a puppet government in Iraqi that indicted him.

If this weren't bad enough, we then turned to trial of Saddam Hussein over to Chalabi's nephew who the new Iraqi government is accusing of murder. So in other words, we have an accused murderer in charge of trying a murderer. If they were only acting on the old line, "it takes one to know one," this would all make sense.

If this sounds idiotic and crazy, there's a reason for it, it's because it is.

NOVAK: You know, James, this is an old story. And I agree with you, Chalabi is a bad actor. The CIA always thought he was a bad actor. But they didn't go to war because of Chalabi's incident. And I don't think it is...

CARVILLE: "The New York Times"...

NOVAK: Wait a minute, let me finish my sentence. And I don't think that it is proper for you to call this a puppet government. This is a government you ought to be praying succeeds in real life.

CARVILLE: I do. But...


CARVILLE: But it's the one we set in there. And they've got to where they're trying -- the guy they put in charge of murderous child is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) murder.


NOVAK: The vanishing American is the white Democratic congressman from the South. Another one bit the dust when freshman Democratic Congressman Rodney Alexander of Louisiana unexpectedly became a Republican convert. The Democratic Party just isn't congenial for pro-life, pro-gun conservatives like Alexander. He became, get this, the 552nd Democratic office holder, most from the South, to change parties since Bill Clinton was elected president.

He switched just before filing for candidates closed, leaving the Democrats without a candidate in the congressional the race. Boy, were the Democrats fried. Robert Matsui, the Democratic congressional campaign chairman, described Alexander as a cowardly turncoat. The Democratic bosses can only sputter as the fades away in Dixie.

CARVILLE: You know, Bob, Rodney Alexander was known as the stupidest Democratic in Louisiana, which would probably make him the smartest Republican in Washington.

Sorry, you understand, if this guy, you know, basically can't add or subtract, but if you all want him, take him. It's fine with me. We are going to win so many this time it's ain't going to be funny.

NOVAK: James, you know very well, don't you, that the white Democratic congressman from the South, they are disappearing. They're gone.

CARVILLE: No they're not. We have plenty of them. We're going to have more this time, I guarantee you that.

NOVAK: OK. That is so ridiculous it leaves me speechless. The stem cell issue divides voters and the two men running for president. How much of the debate is about science and how much is just plain Carvilleian politics? Is this the wedge issue the Democrats have been seeking?

And later, President Bush tries his hand in a little reality television. We'll show you what the cameras captured later on CROSSFIRE.


CARVILLE: President Reagan's death a couple months ago brought a divisive issue to the forefront of the battle for the White House: stem cell research. President Bush placed a partial ban on research three years ago. Senator John Kerry says that's not the way we do things in America. We don't sacrifice science for ideology. Kerry says if he's elected he will lift the ban.

Today we're debating the politics involved in this scientific and ethical issue. In the CROSSFIRE, Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin who is joining us from Madison, Wisconsin, and here in the studio, Genevieve Wood with the Family Research Council.

NOVAK: All right. Congresswoman Baldwin, today, Laura Bush was speaking on the subject, Mrs. Bush's father died from Alzheimer's, so she has a personal commitment. Let's listen to what she said.


LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: I hope that stem cell research will yield cures and therapies for a myriad of illness. But I know that embryonic stem cell research is very preliminary right now. And the implication that cures for Alzheimer's are around the corner is just not right.


NOVAK: And where she gets that information, Ms. Baldwin, is from Michael Shelanski, a stem cell researcher at Columbia University, testifying before Congress earlier this year. And he said: "I think the chance of doing repairs to Alzheimer's brains by putting in stem cells is small. I personally think we're going to get other therapies for Alzheimer's a lot sooner."

What people like you are doing is just politics, isn't it, because there's no scientific evidence that this is any cure for Alzheimer's?

REP. TAMMY BALDWIN (D), WISCONSIN: Well, first of all, I think that as public officials, we owe it to our constituents who have family members suffering from a wide range of illnesses and debilitating illnesses to do all we can to fund science in a scientific way, not an ideological way or based religious ideology.

I think that we owe that to the voters. But secondly, I would disagree strongly with the assessment on where we are with embryonic stem cell research. I represent a district that includes the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where in 1998, Dr. James Thompson first successfully established and sustained a line of embryonic stem cells. They predicted about five or six years ago that it would take about five or six years to get to the stage with this new research where they would be able to contemplate clinical trials.

But the promise is there, it's very exciting what they've been able to do in the laboratory in terms of using these embryonic stem cells to...

NOVAK: The testimony before Congress -- Congresswoman, before the Senate earlier this year was quite the contrary. But you're a very skilled politician. And why -- can't we just admit that what the Democrats have now is that you're in retreat on abortion, on gun control, on gay marriage. And what you have now is your first -- you think you have a wedge issue that you can stick a wedge in between the public and for political benefit. Quite frankly, isn't that what you're up to?

BALDWIN: You know, I meet with constituents all the time who tell me about their children with juvenile diabetes. I know people who -- and I have family members who suffer from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. And we do have very promising research. I believe that we ought to be providing federal funding and to take the politics out of science, the ideology, the religious beliefs and fund scientific research based on the science.

There are an extraordinary number of academic experts who believe that this research holds incredible promise. Nobody is saying, don't endeavor to fund other research, but we owe it to our constituents to do a full-court press.

CARVILLE: Thank you, ma'am.

Ms. Wood, I'm going to show you a list of names of very prominent liberal Democrats who support this. Nancy Reagan, Betty and Gerald Ford, Orrin Hatch, Trent Lott, John McCain, Lamar Alexander, Arlen Specter, Ted Stevens, John Warner, Kay Bailey Hutchison, no, certainly not Democrats, I'd be damned. I thought -- excuse me. Do you know any Democrats who have this sort of position that we shouldn't fund this kind of research?

GENEVIEVE WOOD, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: There are plenty of Democrats that...

CARVILLE: Like who?

WOOD: Zell Miller for one, from Georgia, would be an example.

CARVILLE: All right. Well...

WOOD: Now you want to keep going down the list.


CARVILLE: Yes, all right, Zell Miller. But he supports Bush.

WOOD: James, hold on. This isn't a, how many support this...

CARVILLE: Just give me...

WOOD: This is an issue that's both ethical and...

CARVILLE: I understand.

WOOD: ... as the congresswoman pointed out, it deals with finding cures. I think there are two problems here. This has turned into a political issue which means there's tons of hot air in it. And you guys aren't being out there with all the facts. The facts are the president has not banned stem cell research, even the opening thing that you read there was wrong.

Stem cell research, both embryonic and adult, is legal in this country. The question is whether or not tax dollars are going to fund embryonic, which as Mr. Novak here pointed out, has absolutely not got one cure from embryonic research. Not one.


WOOD: So financially, that's a bad investment. You have got nothing. And secondly, it's huge ethical problem. Once you get into the business of saying, look, we are going to destroy this human being to help another human being, that's a slippery slope you don't want to go down.

CARVILLE: But again, you can't think of anybody but Zell Miller? That's it. Who's supporting Bush.

WOOD: There are plenty of other Democrats out there.

CARVILLE: Name them. Go ahead. I gave you a list of them.


CARVILLE: Listen, the nutty position that you people have that started some kind of inflexible thing of a small segment of the Republican Party that you're some kind of ideological narrow band. And I gave you a list of Nancy Reagan, Orrin Hatch...

WOOD: James, but we're not debating Republicans versus Democrats, we're debating...


WOOD: ... stem cell research. But it seems to be that just because you don't have the facts on your side, you're trying to debate Democrat versus Republican.

CARVILLE: I'm just -- giving you all these Democrats (ph).

WOOD: ... debate who's a Democrat and who's a Republican. Why don't you talk about the science?

CARVILLE: I'm talking about all of these people.

NOVAK: All right. Congresswoman Baldwin, you were at the Democratic Convention in Boston. In fact, I listened to your speech. You're a very good speaker.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

NOVAK: I hope you listened to Ron Reagan Jr.'s speech. And I'm going to -- in case you have forgotten it, I'm going to give you one amazing passage from that speech, and please listen to it.


RON REAGAN, SON OF FMR. PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: The nucleus of one of your cells is placed into a donor egg whose own nucleus has been removed. A bit of chemical or electrical stimulation will encourage your cell's nucleus to begin dividing, creating new cells.


NOVAK: What he's talking about, I'm sure you understand, is the product, is a human embryo no different from the product of sexual reproduction. Now that is human cloning. Are you in favor of human cloning, Ms. Baldwin?

BALDWIN: I'm not. And I'm actually not -- I haven't been invited here to speak to that subject. I'm here to speak to the subject of funding -- using federal dollars to fund embryonic stem cells. And there are many lives at stake in this debate, the lives of the people across the United States, in fact, across the world who suffer from an enemy's list of ailments. And I think we have to keep them in mind.

But I also think that it's very important to point out that the use of embryos in this context are embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics. These are embryos that would otherwise be destroyed. And so we're not talking about...

NOVAK: Yes, but I would like you to answer my -- no, wait a minute, I'd like you to...

CARVILLE: You told me I couldn't interrupt her. Two can play this game. Let this woman talk.

NOVAK: I let her talk before. You're just rude and abusive.

CARVILLE: I'm not rude to anybody.

NOVAK: Yes, you are, you're rude and abusive.

CARVILLE: OK. I'm rude and abusive.


NOVAK: Anyway, Congresswoman, if you'll pardon the interruption by my rude companion, I just want to ask -- you to answer this question. And I think it is essential to this. Ron Reagan went before the Democratic Convention and came out for human cloning. And so, would you say that you would reject what he told the convention about putting the nucleus of the donor egg whose own nucleus has been removed and having this reproduction, you're against that?

BALDWIN: I am. And let me also talk about the safeguards that I think are in place when you have the slippery slope arguments that you and your guest talk about. They had the same sort of arguments when we were talking about the early development of transplant technologies. And what we do in science is not put an end to the science, but we put in road blocks or obstacles. There are a host of ethical oversight that goes on when we're talking about clinical trials, the FDA is involved. What we're talking about...

WOOD: But Congresswoman, you're violating the very first ethical issue here. When you destroy a human embryo to try to do research, you have begun the violations right there...

CARVILLE: Genevieve, let me ask you one question...

BALDWIN: The two points that I reiterated before...

CARVILLE: ... Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson are with you on this, 48 Nobel...

NOVAK: His name is Robertson.

CARVILLE: Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Jim Dobson, some other right wing guy out there in Colorado, are for this. Forty-eight Nobel Prize winners agree with Ms. Baldwin. Why should the country follow these nuts and not these scientists?

WOOD: James, you know, this is why...


WOOD: Let me finish you here. The fact is this is just like polls. Anybody can produce a letter that says we have 100 scientists to say this and 100 scientists that say that. And there are plenty of people who sent letters to the president that are signed who believe that stem cell research using embryos is wrong. The fact is you cannot get away from cloning, which the congresswoman here doesn't want to address, to get cures, which we don't even know if we're ever going to get. It would take millions, likely, of embryos, and you don't have those in IVF clinics.

NOVAK: Next on "Rapidfire", the real reason Ron Reagan junior spoke at the Democratic National Convention, we'll find that out.

And right after the break, Wolf Blitzer tells us about the role of U.S. forces in a battle near one of Iraq's holiest shrines.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up at the top of the hour, rising stakes in Iraq, specifically in the holy city of Najaf. A radical cleric vows to fight to the death.

And important member of the so-called coalition of the willing meets with President Bush. I'll speak live with the Polish prime minister, Marek Belka.

And a stunning look inside the al Qaeda terror network, through what are believed to be al Qaeda's own computers. Those stories, much more only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS".

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

CARVILLE: It's time for "Rapidfire" where we serve up questions furious and fast. We're talking about a hot political issue, stem cell research. Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin is with us from Madison, Wisconsin. And here in the studio, Genevieve Wood of the Family Research Council.

NOVAK: Congresswoman Baldwin, can't we say that the appearance at the Democratic Convention of Ron Reagan to talk about a subject he knows very little about was a cheap political stunt?

BALDWIN: Well, I do think he knows something about this topic. And I think that it was a poignant reminder that people of all political parties have a stake in the outcome of this issue, and that who you vote for in November will make a difference.

CARVILLE: Are you aware that Ron Reagan's speech was sent to experts at Harvard University Medical School to make sure that everything he said in there was accurate and it was deemed to be accurate?

WOOD: Well, what I'm interested to know is why Ron Reagan, when he did describe cloning, as Bob Novak pointed out, he didn't just call it what it was, cloning. He didn't do it because he knows the majority of Americans overwhelming are opposed to cloning. And the fact is you will have to have human cloning to get the research that these folks are talking about, to try to find these cures that we don't even know that you're going to get. NOVAK: Congresswoman, on July the fourth, your candidate for president, Senator John Kerry, said, "I believe life does begin at conception," unquote. What does that do to embryonic stem research if life begins at conception?

BALDWIN: Well, again, we have supported in vitro fertilization clinics for years to help childless couples bring babies into this world. But we also know that the embryos currently are discarded. I believe that we are destroying lives by fundamentally putting restrictions on what is possibly a life-saving and life-extending and improving the quality of life technology.

NOVAK: OK. Thank you very much, Congresswoman Baldwin, thank you very much, Genevieve.

NOVAK: President Bush spent some time recently with a well-known television personality. We'll show you what they did, we really will, right after this.


CARVILLE: All right. This is some television that's all wet. President George W. Bush trying to reel in some votes from the outdoor crowd. Bush and his dog, Barney, is that Barney Fife, were featured last week on Outdoor Life Network, fishing with Roland Martin, the host of "Professional Bass Fishing" who's a friend of the Bush family. The episode was taped at a pond on the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas. And by the way, the president caught a four-pound bass.

NOVAK: Is it true, James, that you spend most of your spare time fishing?

CARVILLE: No. I don't have the patience to do it. But if the president had caught a fish as big as his deficit, he'd have never reeled it in, Bob.

NOVAK: But I can't imagine you fishing. Anything that takes that much patience and thoughtfulness, and that sort of thing.

CARVILLE: I do have a hard time sitting still, you know? And I agree. I'm glad the president caught a fish. From the left, I'm James Carville, that's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: And the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE. "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.


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