Leader Bill Frist predicted on Friday the U.S. Senate
would pass legislation next week expanding federal stem
cell research, likely triggering a veto from President
George W. Bush with unpredictable political repercussions.
Bush has vowed to cast his first veto to block the
research that many believe could lead to new treatments
for diseases including diabetes and Parkinson's. The
president says it is morally unacceptable to destroy an
embryo even for scientific research. But those who back
the research, including some Republicans like Frist who
also oppose abortion rights, note that excess embryos at
fertility clinics would be destroyed anyway and should be
used in research that could revolutionize medicine during
the next decade. "This is preserving life by opening up
therapies that we don't have now and may have in the
future," Frist told a small group of reporters. "The hope
is to advance the hopes and dreams and realities of
scientific research in a strong ethical and moral
The stem cell debate is playing a role in several close
Senate races, particularly in Missouri and Pennsylvania,
where incumbent Republicans James Talent and Rick Santorum
face strong challenges. Democrats predict stem cell
legislation will work in their favor with voters, helping
them win back some independents and centrists.
And because the issue divides even conservative
Republicans, it is likely to figure in the coming battle
for the 2008 presidential nomination. Frist himself, a
Tennessee Republican eyeing a presidential bid, said he
doesn't know what it will mean for his own political
"I have no idea," said Frist, a
transplant surgeon. "This is one for the people who know
what makes me tick."
"It's absolutely the right thing to do for the American
people," he added.
Frist's conservative record and a visible role in the U.S.
debate over ending the life of brain-damaged Florida woman
Terri Schiavo has not endeared him to moderates, while his
stem cell stance alienated some on the right. Frist broke
with Bush last summer to embrace House-passed legislation
expanding federal funding of embryonic stem cell science.
He predicted that the legislation, as well as two less
controversial stem cell bills, will get more than the 60
votes needed in the 100-member Senate under a complex
agreement he brokered to get the package to the floor next
Monday and Tuesday.
Bush, who in 2001 allowed research on a small number of
stem cell lines, is expected to veto the bill. The
Republican-controlled House of Representatives is likely
to back his veto.
But the fallout won't be immediately clear.
Democrats see stem cells as a winner for their side
because Americans "overwhelmingly support this research,"
said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada. "The
president will be making a dire mistake for the American
people if he vetoes this."
New York Democrat Charles Schumer, heading up the Senate
Democrats' campaign efforts this November, said a Bush
veto would send the message: "I am
with the ideologues on the hard right and so is my party."
But conservatives, including Pennsylvania's Santorum, have
sponsored the other two bills they say do not involve
embryonic research and still promote ethical
scientific advances. Bush is likely to sign those bills.
Some of the hard-right conservatives, like Kansas
Republican Sam Brownback, who may also make a presidential
run in 2008, believe the public should be skeptical about
the scientific claims of embryonic research and not lose a
"Everybody's got a good heart," Brownback said. "I just I
think some of them are wrong."