Mon, May 30, 2005 - Page 9 News List

Stem cells generate a rare split in Republican ranks

Leading Republican lawmakers are going to vote in favor of stem cell research rather than the president's agenda, and are happy to say so


After the US House of Representatives defied US President George W. Bush by removing restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, the divisive debate now moves to the Senate, where some members of Bush's Republican party strongly advocate passing the bill.

The issue has split the majority Republicans, and many members of Bush's party feel that the potential benefits of research using leftover frozen fertilized eggs outweigh the concerns of those who say the embryos represent human life and should not be destroyed for research.

An estimated 400,000 frozen embryos are currently stored in the US.

Bush, who in 2001 limited federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to fewer than two dozen stem cell lines, said last week he would veto any such legislation.

He renewed his threat before tomorrow's House vote at a White House gathering that included adopted children born from leftover fertilized embryos.

"Crossing this line would be a great mistake," said Bush, who has not vetoed any legislation from the Republican-controlled Congress during his presidency.

The president's position is in line with many "pro-life" groups, such as anti-abortion and religious organizations who form a backbone of his constituency. But despite threats of political retribution against Republicans who support embryonic stem cell research, the influence of such groups has not had the impact in this case.

Senator Orrin Hatch, a staunchly pro-life Republican, strongly favors embryonic stem cell research. He said that he believes that embryonic stem cell research "supports life."

"I think being pro-life means helping the living as well as the unborn," Hatch said. "To allow those 400,000 fertilized eggs to be discarded, and thus to die, flies in the face of the pro-life consideration."

"To not utilize those for the benefit of mankind and to just let them die or crystallize in place is just stupid, as far as I'm concerned," he said.

Bush's veto threat "makes it more difficult" to pass the bill, Hatch said, but he said he was confident there are enough votes in the Senate to get it through. There are 55 Republicans in the 100-member Senate.

But Hatch's strong support for embryonic stem cell research, and that of a handful of other Republican senators, is not the only sign that the issue divides the party.

Fifty Republicans supported the embryonic stem cell bill in the House of Representatives. The passage of the legislation, by a 238-194 vote, was a rare loss for Bush and Republican leaders, who maintain strong party discipline in the chamber.

However, the margin is not enough to overcome a presidential veto.

Republican Senator Arlen Specter on Wednesday said that he believes "that margin could grow to override a veto." Specter also thinks that the Senate could overcome a presidential veto.

Conservative Republican Senator Trent Lott said that while he generally agrees with Bush, he believes there is "great potential in this stem cell area and we ought to see if we can find ways for health reasons" to do research.

Lott said the issue is "very dicey" and that medical and ethical concerns must be considered. He strongly opposed the "harvesting" of stem cells but said the issue gets fuzzier when it comes to existing eggs that would otherwise be discarded, which is the focus of the legislation.

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