Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Centrist Republicans apologized yesterday for polling in pro-life House Republicans’ districts in an effort to boost support to expand the president’s policy on embryonic stem-cell research, a proposal expected to come up for a vote next week.

Some Republicans were angry and said they were not warned that their districts would be surveyed on the sensitive issue by the Winston Group, a Republican polling firm. The subject was raised in a House Republican conference meeting yesterday morning, and a few members called another conference meeting later in the day to discuss it further.

A group of centrist Republicans — led by Delaware Rep. Michael N. Castle — won a commitment earlier this year from House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert to vote on legislation that would expand Mr. Bush’s 2001 policy, which limited federal research funding to a group of available embryonic stem-cell lines.

“We haven’t changed course,” Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican, said as he left the late-afternoon meeting, explaining that although he doesn’t support Mr. Castle’s effort, “there needs to be a debate on it.”

Mr. Castle has a bill that he and several members say is headed to a vote next week. It would allow researchers to use embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics that otherwise would be discarded.

But a survey commissioned by Mr. Castle and his allies on the issue polled in 13 Republican districts, including those of Arizona Rep. Rick Renzi and House Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri. The results were used to urge support for the bill, and some members said the poll distorted the issue.

Mr. Castle apologized to colleagues yesterday afternoon. “In retrospect, I wish [the poll] wasn’t done,” he said.

Meanwhile, pro-life Republicans such as House Majority Leader Tom DeLay oppose Mr. Castle’s bill and are working to bring to the floor next week a measure that would support research into adult stem cells and core blood stem cells instead of embryonic stem cells.

“Both of those … we’re working on, and would hope to vote on them as soon as we get them ready,” Mr. DeLay said of Mr. Castle’s bill and the conservative bill. “We’re hoping they’ll be ready by next week, but there’s still some work that needs to be done.”

Many conservatives argue that expanding embryonic stem-cell research is wrong, because embryos are destroyed in the process. They say other less-controversial forms of research, such as adult stem-cell research, have more promise of medical breakthroughs.

Rep. Dave Weldon, Florida Republican, said Mr. Castle and his allies tried hard to drum up support for their bill because they know that even if it passes the House, Mr. Bush will veto it and there aren’t enough votes to override that veto.

Mr. Weldon is still working to kill the Castle bill, and has been meeting with about 60 undecided members. The uproar over the poll may help his effort, because it has brought many undecided members up to speed on the complex issue and “some of them are coming our way,” he said..

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