August 13, 2004 in Nation/World

GOP senators defend Bush’s view on stem cell research

Ceci Connolly Washington Post

WASHINGTON – Two Republican senators rose to President Bush’s defense Thursday on the emotional issue of stem cell research, although both said they are pushing the White House to embrace an expansion of the policy advocated by Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.

At a time when polls show overwhelming support for the research, Sens. Gordon Smith of Oregon and Trent Lott of Mississippi expressed concern that Bush is not receiving his due for allowing some federally funded research to go forward while Kerry is not being properly scrutinized for supporting the more controversial “therapeutic” cloning. That involves creating a cloned embryo for the sole purpose of research.

In accusing Kerry of “demagoguing” the issue, the pair entered a fray that has caused a public rift in the family of former president Ronald Reagan and prompted first lady Laura Bush to make a rare foray into public policy. And the fight will continue: Republicans announced Thursday that Michael Reagan, who calls embryonic stem cell research “junk science,” will speak at the national convention in New York. His brother, Ron Reagan, spoke in support of that research at the Democratic National Convention last month.

“No matter what office you are running for, you are going to get asked the question of where you stand on the issue,” said Michael Manganiello, senior vice president of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation. “It behooves our politicians to be informed on this.”

Typically, science doesn’t take center stage in national campaigns. But in a tight race, pollsters say the promise of stem cell research to treat and cure many illnesses is one of the few that could move moderate Republicans and independents.

A recent Zogby International poll found that one of every five Bush supporters would consider switching to Kerry if he were to announce “a major initiative in stem cell research.”

Three years ago, Bush decided to allow federal funding on a limited number of cell “lines” derived from 5-day-old human embryos. Although he put no restrictions on private research, many scientists say the 20 or so lines eligible for public money are nowhere near enough to aggressively pursue treatments for illnesses such as Parkinson’s, juvenile diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

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