The Corner

Tony Snow on Stem Cells

From today’s briefing:

Q Is the President concerned that his veto of the stem cell bill is going to hurt Republicans running in fall elections?

MR. SNOW: Not a bit.

Q He doesn’t feel as though it will hurt?

MR. SNOW: No.

Q Why not?

MR. SNOW: And I’ll tell you what, it’s worth pointing out one thing — actually several things on stem cells. Number one, the President is the first ever to have financed research using embryonic stem cell lines. Number two, there is a bit of demagoguery in the House of Representatives. Representative Castle was circulating talking points about a measure that the House ended up killing that would have provided for research into promising areas that would give us access to what he wants, which are pluripotent cells. But rather than using embryos, it could use adult cells and other cells, and using techniques that are now being pioneered here in the United States provide exactly what he wants. And instead what he did is, is he circulated a series of misleading and fallacious talking points. And on that particular matter, the President is disappointed in the House of Representatives.

Let me just give you a couple of examples. One of the things that Representative Castle was saying is that “it mandates the National Institutes of Health to support highly speculative research, some of which has been deemed unethical by the President’s own bioethics council.” Wrong, false, 100 percent wrong.

As a matter of fact, what the bioethics council said is that this precise kind of research, because it does not place in jeopardy the life of a human being — which is what many people think that the embryo is, and that is what the President believes — you do not engage in morally controversial research when you find ways to back-engineer adult or blood cord cells.

Second point, he says, “it takes the focus away from advancing cures through federal funded embryonic stem cell research.” Again, the most promising research to date — and, granted, a lot of the embryonic stem cell research is itself relatively young, has been in some of these areas that we’re talking about.

So the President is disappointed in the House of Representatives for actually seeming to try to create a false choice, which is to say, either you do embryonic stem cells, which raise the specter in many people’s minds of killing another human being, or you don’t support anything at all, a “my-way-or-the-highway” approach. What the President has done is he has provided access to previously existing embryonic stem cell lines, which are responsible for the vast bulk of research in the entire world, and also pioneering other methods which would get people to exactly the promised land they seek, which is to take a look at pluripotent cells, but getting there through a morally non-controversial means. And apparently that’s not good enough for some members of the House.

Q But it often appears in some of the reporting and some of the discussion out there that the President is holding back scientific progress.

MR. SNOW: Wrong.

Q How do you –

MR. SNOW: You’re just flat wrong. Just flat wrong. I mean, that is basically an attempt to substitute an insult for an argument. I’ve given you the argument and I’ve rebutted the insult.

Q Can I follow up on that?

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q I mean, you got a lot off your chest there, but he asked you a political question, and that is, you know, Democrats clearly feel that there’s support in the country for this bill, so therefore why won’t it hurt Republicans in the fall?

MR. SNOW: I just don’t think it will. I think a President acting on conscience — a President who, again — Bill Clinton, as President, didn’t authorize any of these lines. This is a President who’s spent more money on embryonic stem cell research and stem cell research generally than any President in American history. He’s got the track record. What’s happening now is that people are trying to politicize it by accusing him of standing in the way of science, when he’s the guy who’s made it possible to open up the way to science.

Furthermore — getting me warmed up here — for those who are engaged in embryonic stem cell research, there’s no legal prohibition against their doing it. What they don’t have access to is federal funding. And so the idea that the President is standing in the way of science seems to indicate that the only way you do it is through a federal grant. And there is a burgeoning business — as you know, a lot of people getting rich already — in this kind of medical research. So I would argue that the President is the recipient of a bum rap, and for that reason people, when they do get a chance to judge the facts, are going to draw the same conclusion.

Q Okay, now to follow up, the Democrats clearly are going to be hammering away on this. The President really has spoken on stem cell research really when it’s come up at various points, but not too consistently, I don’t think. Is he going to be talking about this in the fall campaign? Is he going to be making his case?

MR. SNOW: No. The President has made his case. If you take a look back at what happened in 2001, he laid out a position on stem cell research, and guess what, the rest of the world, for the most part, followed. If you take a look at the kinds of conditions that are being applied in Europe and elsewhere, they generally tend to follow the path that was laid down by the President. The people who are Johnny-Come-Latelys to this debate are people who decided, well, let’s try to whip this up for a political year. I would argue that the ones who are bringing it up and speaking on a sporadic basis are the critics and not the President, who has been promoting these policies now for going on six years.

Q So he is or he is not going to be speaking about it during the campaign?

MR. SNOW: Don’t know. I just — I think — look, this is in many ways — I don’t see this being a huge issue. And if Democrats want to make that the centerpiece of their campaign, it will be interesting.

Q What’s the point of having the snowflakes here today? What’s the message of that?

MR. SNOW: The message is that an embryo can produce a human being, and there will be some in evidence. In addition, there will be people who have been the recipients — who have been the beneficiaries of stem cell breakthroughs, advances that have been garnered through adult and other stem cells, and therefore demonstrating — getting back to our other point that, in fact, scientific breakthroughs have been made with these technologies that have also been financed by the federal government and by private industry.

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