- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 11, 2001

CRAWFORD, Texas — The White House yesterday went to extraordinary lengths to portray President Bush's deliberations on federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research as the most thoroughly soul-searching analysis of any issue in his first 200 days in office.
Senior administration officials and even the president himself spent much of yesterday selling the decision to Mr. Bush's various constituencies.
One aide appeared on the radio show of Rush Limbaugh, the most influential conservative talk-show host in America. Others put a full-court press on the White House reporters covering the president's monthlong vacation in Texas. Even Mr. Bush himself made his pitch on ABC's "20/20."
"Virtually everybody who works in the White House has been asked at one point or another on this issue by the president about our positions," White House counselor Karen Hughes told reporters here during an hourlong briefing. "And not only did he ask your opinion, but he also asked really probing questions about what leads you to that conclusion, what ethical considerations did you give that.
"He didn't stop at knowing what you thought about this issue," she added. "He wanted to know the moral underpinnings, the rationale, the reasons that you held that position."
Mrs. Hughes and other aides appeared buoyant over the way their boss had acquitted himself during his 11-minute televised address to the nation Thursday. Mr. Bush said tax dollars should not be spent to kill human embryos for medical studies, although he endorsed research dollars for stem cells that already had been harvested from embryos.
Before the president's speech, many political analysts predicted that he would be widely denounced as a right-wing extremist if he opposed the continued destruction of embryos. But since announcing his opposition, Mr. Bush has been portrayed as the Great Compromiser.
That's because he placed so much emphasis on something that previously was not a large part of the debate. Mr. Bush stressed during his speech that he favored federal funding of some of the 60 stem-cell "lines" that had been established by researchers around the world because those embryos had already been killed.
Those numbers surprised some scientists who previously had been aware of fewer than 30 lines. The surprise intensified yesterday when the White House announced that the National Institutes of Health has now identified 65 lines.
Jay Lefkowitz, general counsel of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said yesterday that 30 of those lines have been cultivated in the United States. A day earlier, he said he knew of fewer than 10 such lines domestically.
Shrugging off the confusion, Mr. Lefkowitz emphasized that no matter how many stem-cell lines exist, the president decided to fund research on them only after intensely researching the moral and scientific implications.
"The president has really spent quite a bit of time looking hard at the scientific issues, at the prospect for cures and therapies," he said. "The president has been looking and exploring all different aspects of this research."
Congressional Democrats, who generally support federal funding for stem-cell research, cautiously welcomed the president's decision but criticized the restrictions imposed on scientists.
"This is the first step that the president has taken," Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas Democrat, told MSNBC television.
"I'm willing to study it and analyze it," she said. "But I'm also willing to join my colleagues in the United States Congress to be able to look to expand it."
"Restrictions on this life-saving research will slow the development of the new cures that are so urgently needed by millions of patients across America," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said in a statement, adding that he expected Congress to enact legislation to allow research to move forward "with proper ethical and scientific oversight."

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