- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Two issues awaiting President Bush's decision — embryonic stem-cell research and amnesty for 3 million illegal Mexican aliens — most worry Republican leaders around the country.
Party leaders say the debate over using human embryos for medical research divides two key segments of the Republican coalition: religious conservatives and suburban voters. One official warns that the party will "pay a significant price" if Mr. Bush grants amnesty for illegal immigrants.
In interviews with scores of party leaders and elected officials from around the country, many attending a national party meeting in Boston last week, embryonic stem-cell research emerges as a dangerous issue for Republicans.
Some warn that religious conservatives will defect if Mr. Bush allows research on embryonic stem cells. Others say Mr. Bush and Republicans up for re-election next year risk being "marginalized" among suburbanites and female voters unless he supports such research.
"I think the president is going to do the right thing, I expect him to do the right thing and the social conservative base of his party expects him to do the right thing," said Tim Lambert, a Texas member of the Republican National Committee.
Mr. Lambert says he opposes stem-cell research on human embryos as immoral because destroying embryos, even for the sake of advancing science and medicine, is taking a human life.
But a Midwestern party official confided that he is "hopeful that the decision in the White House will be to support stem-cell research. I can tell you that if we don't, we are going to become marginalized politically, and with women in particular."
The Midwestern Republican leader said he will use his White House access to emphasize "that if we end up opposing that research, we are going to be viewed as so far outside the mainstream that it's going to kill us, particularly with suburban America."
On the proposed amnesty for illegal Mexican immigrants, Republican leaders say disgust from traditional conservatives could more than offset any advantage Mr. Bush and his party would gain among Hispanic voters.
Mr. Bush is expected to make a decision regarding illegal immigrants in time to present it to Mexican President Vicente Fox when he visits the White House in September.
Republicans eager to improve the party's performance among Hispanic voters cite President Reagan's approval of amnesty for illegal aliens under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.
But most party officials doubt the political results.
A Republican state chairman from the West, eager to avoid a clash with the Bush White House, spoke only reluctantly and privately about the amnesty proposal.
"It deeply concerns me if there is even an impression that the administration is going to do this amnesty," he said. "We will pay a significant price with our traditional base for years to come."
A California Republican lawmaker, however, said in a telephone interview yesterday that amnesty or some sort of accelerated green-card status for illegal immigrants working in the United States would be the ethical move for Mr. Bush.
"We have a lot people here looking for residency. We know who does all the hard labor in the United States — the migrant community," said California Assemblyman Abel Maldonado, whose father was born in Mexico. "The Hispanic community always looked for amnesty, guest worker status or temporary visas."
Republican National Committee Chairman and Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III was circumspect when asked about the amnesty issue in an interview with The Washington Times during the RNC's annual summer meeting in Boston last week.
"This president is listening to a lot more people than this party has listened to in the past," Mr. Gilmore said. "The whole policy of this party is to open the doors and open our ears and listen to the concerns of more and more people."
Mr. Gilmore said Mr. Bush is "doing just that, which is why he is so successful with the Hispanic vote in the most recent polling we're seeing. We don't believe there is any constituency we can't get."
Michael T. Hellon, an RNC member from Arizona, said he saw merits on both sides of the amnesty issue: "You don't want to imply you're going to have an amnesty every few years. At the same time, you have to recognize these people are here for good reason. They're needed by employers in our economy."
But another Western state Republican leader attending the Boston meeting said most voters — including many Hispanics — want to penalize illegal immigration.
"Even Democrats in California say if we had a Proposition 187 on the ballot all over again, to take away free health and education benefits for illegal aliens, it would still pass by the same margin, even though there now are more Latinos in the state and more of them would be voting." California's Proposition 187, which cut public assistance to illegal aliens, won 59 percent of the vote in 1994.
Even floating a "trial balloon" for amnesty was a bad idea, this Western Republican said.
"Many people are telling me they will quit the Republican Party if this amnesty thing actually happens," he said. "It would be a deal-breaker with our voters. It's terribly emotional and even to leak something like this was not a wise political move at this time."
In interviews with scores of Republican state leaders in Boston, it became clear that on another issue, the administration's agreement to close the Navy's live-fire training site on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, Mr. Bush escaped the conservative backlash some on the right had predicted.
"I haven't heard a single person in my state express an interest in the Vieques incident," said California Republican Party Chairman Shawn Steel. "But people in my state don't know much about Puerto Rico."
"Vieques was a two-day story in Louisiana, and then it was over," said state Republican Party Chairman Patricia P. Brister.

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