Meeting with House Democrats holding a retreat here, Mr. Obama answered a question from Rep. James R. Langevin, a Rhode Island Democrat who is a paraplegic, by saying he will sign the order, according to three sources who were in the closed-door part of the meeting.
"I guarantee you that we will sign an executive order for stem cells," Mr. Obama said, according to the sources who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the closed-door portion of the meeting.
Mr. Obama said the executive order would be coordinated with Congress on timing, and said it was important that Congress also pass a law codifying his order so that a future president couldn't simply reverse the policy back.
In 2001, Mr. Bush signed an order early in his presidency allowing federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, though limiting it only to lines that existed at that point. Congress has twice passed a bill expanding funding beyond Mr. Bush's policy but he vetoed it, and lawmakers were unable to override it.
The research is theoretically promising because embryonic stem cells can turn into any kind of human cell, which holds out the possibility of miracle cures via the production of patient-specific healthy cells untainted by disease or degeneration.
However, harvesting the cells destroys the embryo, which has raised moral criticism of the research as a form of murder the reason for Mr. Bush limiting the research to lines where the decision about life and death already had been made. Research done outside U.S. federal auspices also has yielded few tangible results.
In Williamsburg, the private Q&A portion Mr. Obama spoke in public for 22 minutes about his stimulus spending bill, ditching his prepared remarks for much of the time to deliver a fiery plea to Democrats and a mocking rebuke to Republicans.
He blamed "cable chatter" for distorting the debate, and said, "aren't you all tired of that stuff?"
"I don't care whether you're driving a hybrid or an SUV, if you're headed for a cliff you've got to change direction," he said. "That's what the American people called for in November, and that's what we intend to deliver."
In fielding questions, Mr. Obama was asked how he planned to keep his millions of supporters engaged going forward, and he said he was counting on the Democratic National Committee to manage that effort. He said he was about to launch "Obama 2.0."
It was the president's first trip out of Washington since being inaugurated, and marked his first flight as president aboard Air Force One. He came back to the press cabin at the back of the plane to talk with reporters as the plane was taxiing for liftoff, and he was sporting a brand new blue Air Force One crew jacket with his name stitched on the breast.
"I’ve got my spiffy jacket so I thought I’d come and show it off," he said.
"It’s good to see you guys. What do you think about this spiffy ride? It’s not bad," he told the press, who he visited in their rear compartment before the flight took off.
He also raved about the view from Marine One, which ferries the president from the lawn of the White House to Andrews Air Force Base, where Air Force One always awaits him.
"The helicopter was very smooth, very impressive, you go right over the Washington Monument and then, you know, kind of curves in by the Capitol. It was spectacular."
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