Leading up to tomorrow’s ill timed vote on a stem cell funding measure, the House Democratic leadership wanted to offer its members some cover from charges they were friendly to human cloning. So they scheduled a vote tonight on a so-called cloning ban that actually failed to ban cloning. Using a tried and true semantic trick, the bill defined human cloning as the transfer of a cloned embryo to a woman’s womb, rather than the creation of that embryo, thereby protecting the practice of cloning (and destroying) human embryos for research while pretending to ban it.
The fact that Speaker Pelosi thought it was necessary to do this already signaled a peculiar desperation on this issue, and left a lot of us scratching our heads. But the results of the vote are just downright amazing. The Speaker brought the bill up under suspension, which means it would have needed a two-thirds vote to pass. Not only did it not get two-thirds of the members, it didn’t even get a simple majority. The bill failed, with 204 votes in favor and 213 against—a full 74 votes short of the margin needed to pass.
Quite apart from any message this sends on human cloning (and the message it sends is roughly the opposite of the one Pelosi was trying to send) this is an extraordinarily embarrassing failure of basic management by the Speaker. Did she not count votes before bringing a bill up under suspension of the rules? All she has managed to do is put her members in an even more uncomfortable position. Meanwhile she’s sending them into a vote on stem cell funding tomorrow just as front page stories appear about techniques that could one day make embryo-destructive research obsolete. The bill will still pass, to be sure, but by doing so it will raise the issue to prominence in almost the least advantageous imaginable circumstances for the Democrats.
None of this makes stem cell politics a huge winner for Republicans, of course, but somehow Speaker Pelosi just might have found a way to lose the Democrats’ edge on the issue. She’s that good.