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CNN INSIDE POLITICS

Reaction to Bush's Decision on Stem Cells; Discovery Launches New Crew to Space Station; Can Stem Cells Research Live up to Expectations?

Aired August 10, 2001 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JEANNE MESERVE, GUEST HOST: This is INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Jeanne Meserve. An outpouring today of praise, criticism and questions about the Bush compromise on stem cell research.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm John King in Washington. There may be fallout from the president's speech, but in that, the Bush team sees a silver lining.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Elizabeth Cohen in Atlanta. Some stem cell experts are asking: Where did President Bush get his numbers?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm Bill Schneider in Los Angeles with a tough call in the political play of the week.

ANNOUNCER: Now, Judy Woodruff takes you INSIDE POLITICS.

MESERVE: Thanks for joining us. Judy is off this week. On this day after the president's big speech on stem cell research, his aides are characterizing Mr. Bush's decision to approve limited federal funding as agonizing, ethical, anything but political. However, as you would expect here in Washington, the No. 1 question is: How is the announcement playing politically?

We begin our coverage with CNN senior White House correspondent John King -- John.

KING: Well, Jeanne, the president largely out of the public eye today. He is on vacation at his ranch in Texas. But as you mentioned, White House aides working quite aggressively here. They are taking to the television airwaves, radio programming as well, and in addition, making private telephone calls around the nation trying to determine two things: one, just how much did the president's nationally televised address last night affect the political debate over stem cell research, and what if any lasting political damage has it done to the president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): The White House effort to manage the political fallout began before daybreak: the morning news shows. The president came under fire from both the right and left and the White House view proof his call for federal funding of limited embryonic stem cell research was a true compromise.

KAREN HUGHES, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: One of the things you learn as president is that you are not able to make all people happy all the time.

KING: Mr. Bush said the administration had identified some 60 existing stem cell lines and that he would support federally funded research using those. But he opposes using tax dollars to gain new stem cells by destroying leftover fertility clinic embryos. Aides say the president made his decision on moral and ethical grounds, and that he admonished aides who talked politics during his deliberations. But the Bush team closely monitored the political fallout, and of most concern was sharp criticism from conservative activists...

ANDREA LAFFERTY, TRADITIONAL VALUES COALITION: We must not continue to slide into Nazism by deliberately creating life to kill it. This immoral -- this is immoral and it must be stopped.

KING: ... and the Catholic Church.

CARDINAL THEODORE MCCARRICK, ARCHBISHOP OF WASHINGTON: The president's decision unfortunately allows the allotment of federal funding. The money we pay in our taxes was something that many of us feel are -- is morally wrong. It opens the door to experimentation on human beings.

KING: But other key conservative leaders were more positive. The National Right to Life Committee said it was delighted the president opposed destroying more embryos to harvest new stem cells. Focus on the Family's James Dobson, whose radio show reaches up to 10 million people a week, said Mr. Bush deserves praise. And while House majority whip, Tom DeLay, said he was disappointed with the decision, he also said he believed Mr. Bush made it from his heart, not from politics or polls.

Some Democratic leaders will push for broader federal research using leftover fertility clinic embryos that Mr. Bush wants kept off limits. But the administration voiced confidence the president had made a persuasive case in his first nationally televised address to the American people.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you for listening. Good night, and God bless America.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Now the administration continuing to assess the political dynamic the day after the president's speech, but as one senior official put it a short time ago, "Criticism on the left, criticism on the right. On this one, we seem to be in the middle, and that's just fine" -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: John, a lot of that criticism today has come in Washington. What about outside the beltway? What are the grass roots activists saying about this decision?

KING: That is certainly one of the things the Bush team tracking most closely: What do conservative activists who would tend to vote Republican outside of Washington think about all this? Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser, reaching out to many socially conservative and other Republican affiliated groups around the country. And then grass roots politics Internet age I guess would be one way to look at this.

And if our viewers want to take a peek, you can go to any of the Web sites: Focus on the Family, a conservative group; the National Right to Life organization. There's a group called Do No Harm that has a Web site called stemcellresearch.org. On all these Web sites, a fierce debate among social conservatives reflecting the debate even just among the Republican right on whether the president's decision was the right one or the wrong one -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: John King, thank you.

And now for more on congressional reaction to Mr. Bush's decision, let's go to our Jonathan Karl up on Capitol Hill.

Jonathan, yesterday, a lot of Republican leaders talking kind of tough. What was their reaction today once they'd actually seen the decision?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the response from conservatives was muted. Conservatives not coming out too strongly and attacking the president over this decision even though many of them disagreed with the way he came down on this. And there's a reason for that. The reason is that many of the conservatives on this issue thought that the president would do something that by their standards would have been a lot worse.

As a matter of fact, we talked yesterday about how Karl Rove called five conservative activists up here in Congress on this issue 10 minutes before the president's speech.

Well, before Rove got on that conference call, the five of them were talking amongst themselves each expecting that the president's decision was ultimately going to be full-blown funding of embryonic stem cell research, not this kind of restricted funding he came down on. So they expressed some relief and some -- you know, happy surprise on their part even though ultimately disagreed with the decision.

That's why you saw Tom DeLay come out with his statement. You saw a little bit of it in John King's piece. The full statement's worth looking at. DeLay said, quote, "Last month at the White House, President Bush looked me in the eye and told me that he would make a decision on stem cell research from his heart, not from politics or polls. And I believe he has."

DeLay goes on to say, "However, I'm still disappointed that the federal government will fund embryonic stem cell research even though the proposed research will take place upon embryos that have already been destroyed." Now that a much toned down reaction from what we saw from Tom DeLay just last month when he talked about -- talking about an industry of death.

But there was one other harsher criticism that did come from Chris Smith, who was on that conference call with Karl Rove. Chris Smith, Republican from New Jersey, one of the most stridently anti- abortion members of the House of Representatives, he said in his statement, quote, "For millions of Americans who agree with President Bush, that human life is a sacred gift from our creator, yesterday's decision was deeply disappointing. The proposal to allow federal funding for experimentation on stem cells obtained through the destruction of living human embryos is a mistake." Jeanne.

MESERVE: Jon, there are those, of course, who would have liked to have seen fewer restrictions on federal funding of stem cell research. What comes next up on the Hill?

KARL: Well, as soon as Congress gets back, Senator Ted Kennedy will have hearings on this. As a matter of fact, the day after Congress returns, those hearings will start here in Congress September 5. A broad look at the issue. He'll invite in members of the administration, bioethicists, scientists, maybe even a Hollywood celebrity or two. But as far as the idea of legislation on this, most people on both sides of this agree that the president's decision takes out some of the immediacy. You're not likely to see a bill pass the Congress immediately or even a debate on it immediately when Congress returns now, because this took some of the wind out of those sails.

MESERVE: Jon Karl up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

And shifting gears now, we're just moments away from a space shuttle launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch of the shuttle Discovery will mark the eighth shuttle mission in the past 12 months. CNN's John Zarrella has seen more than a few of those launches. He joins us now live from the space center -- John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jeanne, and we're sure happy we're going to have the opportunity to see one here today. It was iffy earlier today. We're about just about two minutes before lift off of Discovery. They've moved up the launch time by five minutes, originally scheduled for 5:15 this afternoon. But because of weather concerns, and those were weather concerns that actually forced the scrubbing of Discovery yesterday, they decided to go at the opening of the launch window at 5:10.

So again now, we're a minute and 43 seconds away from the lift off of the shuttle Discovery, an important mission. It's the 30th flight of the shuttle Discovery. This is the 11th flight to the international space station. NASA really wants to get this vehicle off the ground because the primary concern here is to get up to the space station and bring a replacement crew, a fresh crew up there. Commander Frank Culbertson and two cosmonauts are really taking a taxi ride on this mission up to the international space station. They are the Expedition Three crew. They will replace the Expedition Two crew, which has been up there since March. Now it's really a whole new phase in the space station's history that's beginning with this launch. And when the crew gets there, one minute now away from launch, a lot of science on tap. No more, at least for the foreseeable future, big projects to put in hardware on the space station.

This crew that's going up is going to be very lonely. They're not going to be visited by another space shuttle until the one comes to pick them up, the end of November, early December to bring them back.

Thirty-five seconds away. Again, all things are smooth. The vehicle has been performing perfectly. There have been no issues there. We're going to pause now and listen to Lisa Malone as she counts down the last 30 seconds.

LISA MALONE: We ought to go for auto sequence start.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twenty seconds.

MALONE: T-minus 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, T-minus 10, nine, eight, seven, six. We have (UNINTELLIGIBLE) engine start, three, two, one, twister ignition and lift off of Discovery carrying the third crew of astronaut residents to (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

Houston is now controlling. The Roman Newburg (ph) is complete and Discovery is now in a heads down, wings level position carrying the next resident crew to the international space station.

ZARRELLA: Thirty seconds now into the flight of Discovery. The next big event will come at about two minutes in when we have the separation of the solid rocket boosters for these two minutes of powered flight. It is really a very, very difficult situation. It's the most crucial time for the shuttle. Can't do much while you're on those boosters. They're just flying this rocket. So another minute to go before the separation of the solid rocket boosters, and then it will be about seven more minutes before they have what's called MECO, main engine cut off, which will allow them to then go into orbit.

MALONE: Discovery's three liquid fuel engines are now back at full throttle, 104 percent of rated thrust. Discovery is now traveling more than 1,300 miles per hour, down range from the Kennedy Space Center about seven miles at an altitude of 12 miles.

ZARRELLA: Spectacularly clear sky overhead giving everyone a fabulous view of Discovery probably all up and down the east coast of Florida.

MALONE: One minute and 34 seconds into the flight with seven minutes of powered flight remaining. Standing by for the next major event, which will be the burnout and separation of the solid rocket boosters.

ZARRELLA: Should be a spectacular view from those cameras, those close-up cameras of those solid rocket boosters as they fall away from Discovery. Of course, they fall back into the Atlantic Ocean where they are recovered and reprocessed and then reused. Coming up here in just a couple of seconds, separation of the SRBs.

MALONE: And the booster officer confirms a good separation of the solid rocket boosters.

ZARRELLA: Even from our vantage point here, we can still see the dot in the sky, the space shuttle on its way now for rendezvous with the international space station.

MALONE: With that call in the event of a single engine failure, Discovery could now reach the transatlantic landing site at Moron, Spain. However, telemetry continuing to indicate that all systems on board are performing well. Discover now down range from the Kennedy Space Center at a distance of 56 miles. Altitude is 41 miles, and they're traveling at a speed of greater than 3,400 miles per hour.

ZARRELLA: The 12-day Discovery mission is quite full with events, not only to change out of the Expedition crews up there, but a lot of supplies, resupplying of the vehicle, of the international space station. There is also -- there are also two space walks that are on tap due some minor repairs to the space station and add a little bit of equipment, some fix-up work to be done.

It's a 12-day mission in all, and when Discovery comes home, it'll be bringing that Expedition Two crew back to Earth with it after they've been up there for more than four months themselves. Expedition Three crew also will be spending a good four-plus months themselves up there. Lots and lots of science on tap for that crew in the next four months. So again, Discovery well on its way off the launch pad here at the Kennedy Space Center. This is John Zarrella reporting live from the Kennedy Space Center -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Thanks, John. And more reaction to the president's stem cell research decision and other political news still ahead. Stay with us. This is INSIDE POLITICS.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LINDA CHAVEZ: I find it devastating that the Bush administration would support this kind of racial preference.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: More anger from the right aimed at President Bush. Is he backing a way from a compromise on affirmative action? Will Al Gore's political prospects get hairier when he returns to the national stage tomorrow? We'll ask our political roundtable. And later, find out who's playing the Clinton card.

Live from Washington, there's more of INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MESERVE: A CNN-"USA Today"-Gallup poll taken immediately after the president's speech found that half of those responding approve of the president's stem cell decision. Twenty-five percent said they disapprove, while another 25 percent are unsure. The poll represents a quick snapshot of public opinion; only a third of Americans actually watched the speech.

And now reaction from the scientific community, we're joined by CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

Elizabeth, one of the people who do this research, what are they saying? Do they see the glass as half full or half empty?

COHEN: Well, I guess if they can see it as both, I'd have to say they see it as both. First of all, Jeanne, they were relieved that it wasn't even worse or worse in their eyes that, you know, the president could have said no to federal funding for any kind of embryonic stem cell research. And for them, that would have been pretty terrible. However, they're concerned about a couple of things.

First of all, they say that 60 stem cell lines don't represent enough genetic diversity to get all sorts of treatments for all sorts of disease for all sorts people. As President Bush said in his speech, each of us is a snowflake. Well, they say that means that you need many, many cell lines not just 60. However, again, they were relieved that he didn't just say no.

They're a little concerned also about access. These stem cell lines are owned by private companies. The companies don't have to let everybody use them in order to get federal funds. So some people are saying: What if they don't let us use them or what if they charge us a lot of money to use them?

MESERVE: Elizabeth, a lot of controversy about this number: 60. Where does it come from? Is it reliable?

COHEN: It comes from an NIH survey that was done pretty recently I think in the past couple of weeks where they looked through the literature and called various companies and said, "How many do you have?" Some people are doubting it because they say, again, these stem cell lines are in private companies. Their people could have them and we wouldn't even know it, or people could just make up numbers. Who knows?

Also, half of the 60 are in other countries, various countries -- Israel, Sweden, Singapore, Australia -- and some people are saying, "How do we know what they have?" But again, the exact number is not all that important -- if it's 40, if it's 60, if it's 50, if it's 70. Scientists have said it's not many as we would like no matter what that number is.

MESERVE: OK, Elizabeth Cohen in Atlanta, thanks so much for the insight.

And one day after the president's decision, the debate does go on. Stem cell research opponents and supporters remain divided, including members of Congress. Joining me now from Denver is Democratic representative Diana DeGette of Colorado. She has introduced a bill to ensure federal funding of stem cell research.

Thank so much for joining us today.

REP. DIANA DEGETTE (D), COLORADO: Glad to be with you, Jeanne.

MESERVE: Presidential counselor Karen Hughes said today that the president's decision was an ethical one, not a political one. Do you buy that?

DEGETTE: Well, I think that the president did try to do the right thing by continuing this research. I'm very pleased to see that, obviously, but then puzzled why he would say embryonic stem cell research is so important, but then why he would limit it. And the only conclusion people like me can come to, he was trying to throw some kind of a sop to the extremists who were urging him to ban it all together.

MESERVE: Well, some might say that good politics is the art of compromise, the art of finding the middle ground. Has he done that here?

DEGETTE: Well, the problem is with embryonic stem cell research, if it's so important -- and I believe it is -- for curing diseases like diabetes and Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, why would you limit that research just to certain stem lines so that you could only use those stem lines in trying to find cures?

And by the way, the NIH study I heard your scientists talking about only identified 10 to 12 stem lines. We're still trying to figure out where 60 comes from. But no matter how many it is, if that limits this research, if it stops us from curing some diseases, why would that be any compromise at all? If the research is so important, let's have the full range of research.

MESERVE: Well, legislatively, where do you go from here?

DEGETTE: Well, Congressman Jim Ramstad of Minnesota, a Republican, and I, circulated a letter and had over 200 signatures by Democrats and Republicans in the House. Last week, we -- on the heels of that, we introduced a bill which will codify full NIH funding and research. Frankly, I need to spend more time in the next few weeks with scientists figuring out exactly how damaging this restriction is and talking to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

But I do know we have strong bipartisan support in the House and in the Senate for the full range of research. So I think it remains to be seen what will happen. But I think we're all shaking our heads about why exactly President Bush would on the one hand recognize the importance of the research, and then on the other hand, restrict it so it really can't be effective in curing so many of these diseases.

MESERVE: Jonathan Karl reported from the Hill just a short time ago that there were a lot of members who were on your side of the fence who are voicing some contentment with this compromise the president has found. Does that take the wind out of your sails?

DEGETTE: Well, again, the people I spoke to in the last few weeks -- and I think between myself and Congressman Ramstad we've pretty much covered the waterfront -- people are committed to embryonic stem cell research. They realize that it will affect millions of Americans. So I think if those same members of Congress find out that the diseases they care about won't be affected, then I think they may be wanting to look at a full range of research. I think this was -- no one expected this announcement so soon yesterday. We're going to have to talk to our colleagues and really find out what the scientific effect of this is.

MESERVE: So you haven't talked to your colleagues or many of them since the decision last night? You don't have a sense right now of where things stand in the House or in the Senate?

DEGETTE: I don't think anyone is. You know, when the August recess starts in Congress, people scatter to the winds. Many folks are traveling. And I think that more importantly, we don't know from the scientists just how devastating this is. One scientists that I talked to today said that some of these private companies only have six lines of stem cells identified, and of the six lines only two lines are actually viable.

So you can see if you're trying to solve things like sickle cell anemia and Tay-Sachs disease, some diseases that only affect certain types of genetic pools limiting the embryonic stem cell research like this could be absolutely devastating. And I think that's what we have to find out during the rest of August.

But as I said, Congressman Ramstad and I did file our bill last week. We introduced the legislation and we're prepared to move forward if we think that this decision by the president really is going to limit research.

MESERVE: And Congresswoman Diana DeGette, we have to leave it there. Thanks for joining us.

DEGETTE: Glad to be with you.

MESERVE: And now for some background on how the president came to his stem cell decision and the political response it has received, we're joined from the White House by Dan Bartlett, the president's communications director.

DAN BARTLETT, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Hi, Jeanne.

MESERVE: Thanks so much for joining us.

BARTLETT: You bet.

MESERVE: Some people are characterizing the president's decision as a dodge. Well-packaged, well-delivered perhaps, but a dodge nonetheless of the real serious issue that has to be decided. Your response?

BARTLETT: Well, Jeanne, I think what you saw last night is that the president of the United States offered the American people a solution, a solution that takes advantage of it and taps into the power and promise of stem cell research but also sticks to a very consistent principle that we shouldn't use taxpayers' dollars to fund the further destruction of human embryos. We think that president last night showed that he took a very thoughtful, deliberative approach that is providing the hope and promise to many Americans who are afflicted with life-threatening diseases, but also very consistent with a very strong moral, ethical principle. And last night, he took a decision that was made with policy implications in mind, with moral and societal implications in mind and not politics. So we think the American people will rally around this position.

MESERVE: But he's being fired at from both sides. Let me read you a quote. This from Bishop Joseph Fiorenza, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He said, "We hope and pray that President Bush will return to a principled stand against treating some human lives as nothing more than objects to be manipulated and destroyed for research purposes." What is your reaction to that?

BARTLETT: Well, there have been many other comments from members of the Catholic hierarchy who have had much praise for the president in the bold decision he made last night. It's important to understand. And a very difficult decision as the president said last night, the more you look at this issue, the more you study it, the more complex it becomes. But I think what you will find is that you can't please all people all the time, particularly when you're not making decisions based on politics but on principle and policy. So we understood going into it, the president understood that not everyone was going to be pleased. But actually, we're very pleased with most of the comments that we're receiving not only from members of the church, but also members from Congress and other interested parties.

MESERVE: Even those who are saying they feel betrayed? And we are hearing that word from some people in the anti-abortion community.

BARTLETT: Yeah, we understand that. This is a very emotional decision and an issue that touches many people in very different ways. And it's understandable that some would be feeling that way. But at the same time, I think that you see the wide praise that was given to President Bush last night, because what he is doing is offering a solution, a solution that will give hope and promise to many Americans afflicted with these life-threatening diseases, but also being very principled in the decision that he made back during the campaign that we should not use taxpayers' funds to fund the additional -- further destruction of additional human embryos.

MESERVE: Politically, is he reaching out to calm down those who may have be been ruffled by this decision? I know you yourself appeared today on the "Rush Limbaugh Show."

BARTLETT: Well, we're obviously reaching out to all constituencies to make sure that the understand not only the ramifications of the president's decision, but the complexity of that decision. We're doing consultations with the members of Congress, interested parties, anybody who's interested in understanding the details. It's important to understand that last night, the president talked about a new line of information, that being the 60 stem cell lines. This is something that a very highly respected National Institutes Health confirmed throughout the world that these stem cell lines will be accessible to federal researchers. And we think it'll offer the power and promise that everybody's looking for so...

MESERVE: Not all agree with you, as you know. There is also criticism from the other side, those who would have liked to have seen less restrictions on the federal funding. One of those is Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. He issued a statement today commenting on compassionate conservatives, saying "It appears to be the using of the words 'compassion' to mask efforts to keep a campaign promise to conservatives." He indicates you are limiting research opportunities that would help many people.

BARTLETT: Well, I would think that anybody who saw the president's comments last night and his proposal will see that this is a decision that was based on principle and policy, not politics. And it's one that he spent a lot of time on and came to a conclusion that this is the right track for America. It's one that is principled, and it is one that we think the American people can rally to.

MESERVE: And we have to leave it there. Dan Bartlett, thank you so much for joining us from the White House this afternoon.

BARTLETT: Thanks for having me, Jeanne.

MESERVE: And former president Clinton today was asked his reaction to President Bush's stem cell announcement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, 42ND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I want to study it. I think plainly, we have to do this, but we don't want to get into -- there are obviously some ethical problems at the outer boundaries.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: While Bill Clinton was president, the policy was established that federal funds could be used for embryonic stem cell research as long as the stem cells were extracted from embryos using private funds. Earlier this year, the Bush administration canceled reviews of grant applications under this policy, and the Clinton-era guidelines were put on hold while President Bush made his decision which was announced last night.

Campaign rhetoric collides with legal policy. Next on INSIDE POLITICS, a major affirmative action case heads back to the Supreme Court testing the Bush administration's stand on racial preferences.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(AUDIO/VIDEO GAP)

MESERVE: ... and then, from "USA Today," another view: "Bush set a promising tone Thursday. This was not an easy decision for the president, who previously said life begins at conception. His change of heart should not be seen as sign of weakness of opportunism, but as a difficult balance between personal beliefs and the national interests." Let me ask the panel, was this a courageous step (AUDIO GAP). Let's start with you.

DICK POLMAN, "PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER": I think this was a pretty good decision. (AUDIO GAP). I think the most important thing here is the reaction (AUDIO GAP) Bill noted, these are not (AUDIO GAP) that we live in right now, and I think that the (AUDIO GAP) ban on this (AUDIO GAP) because it looks like perhaps they're being that they're showing a lack (AUDIO GAP) actually going to go out to the polls in three years...

(AUDIO/VIDEO GAP)

POLMAN: The White House I think was extremely savvy in the way -- it looked like he was taking a long time to make this decision (AUDIO GAP) the deliberations over a period of weeks and the amount of time that the president was putting in on this (AUDIO GAP) paint a picture of a president who is in fact engaged and is not just riding his exercise bike while Dick Cheney does the heavy lifting.

I think they actually managed to get some mileage out of that.

MESERVE: Megan, do you think that that attempt was successful? Does he look like Solomon here?

MEGAN GARVEY, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, I mean, I don't want to be too cynical about this issue. I think there are some very serious moral and ethical decisions that have to be made, and I'd like to at least take the president at his word in that he struggled with those issues. I think a lot of people on both sides of this issue have struggled with what is the meaning of life, when does life begin -- those are all very serious and difficult questions.

But I certainly think it's interesting that he came up with an answer that basically pleased, to a certain degree, both sides, at the same time, it angered to a certain degree both sides.

MESERVE: OK. We're going to work on our technical difficulties. We will have Eric Pooley when we come back, and we're also going to switch gears and we're going to discuss Al Gore's decision to return to the public eye. The former vice president will play the role of teacher tomorrow and he plays the role of (AUDIO GAP) later next week. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MESERVE: We're back with our panel, and now we can hear Eric Pooley, he can hear us. Before we move on, Eric, real questions about the impact of this decision on stem cell.

ERIC POOLEY, "TIME" MAGAZINE: I would agree that it was a brilliant short-term political maneuver by Bush, but I think that its long-term utility is very much an open question, and here's why: We don't yet know whether the 60 stem cell lines that research can be undertaken on with government funding are going to be enough to get the job done. And if they're not, there's going to be enormous pressure from the scientific community and also from the patients' rights community to extend what Bush has done and start to use more stem cell lines from new research on frozen embryos.

That's going to raise the whole issue again. It's going to happen in the Senate, it's going to the happen in the House. As Bill Schneider said at the top, it -- Congress would love to duck this. But we just don't know if they can yet, because this was the opening bid of the 21st century, if you will. When the president sat down and addressed the country not on war or bombing Saddam Hussein, but on bioethics -- you know, I think the message was, get used to it. We're going to be doing a lot of this over the next few years, certainly over the next decade.

And you know, this is the brave new world, and you know, seeing Bush there trying to be an honest broker, trying to work through the problem I think was reassuring to people, and I think that was probably the best part of it for the president, was that it seemed like the guy who was trying to do the job, like anybody sitting around their kitchen table, trying to sort through a really tricky problem, and I think that was part of redefining the president. I think that when the White House aides saw George Bush...

(AUDIO/VIDEO GAP)

POOLEY: ... was out of single digits, so Democrats don't know who they want as their front-runner, as their standard-bearer, they are not at all sure they want Al Gore, and so I think everybody has a heck of a lot of work to do between now and, say, 2002, when it starts to get serious for 2004.

MESERVE: And we should clarify, we were putting up a different poll set of numbers when you were speaking. That reflected Democrats' choice for president in 2004.

But we have to wrap it up there. Eric Pooley, Megan Garvey and Dick Polman, thank you all for joining us.

And why are some Republicans saying hold the numbers...

(CROSSTALK)

MESERVE: ... coming up next. Plus, a souvenir of the Clinton era that is proof the former president is as popular as ever.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MESERVE: And now, some scoops from our sources. The Congressional Budget Office now says it will release new revenue numbers on August 28, a week later than expected. Sources tell us GOP leaders told the CBO to sit on the numbers until Republicans can return from their vacations and be on hand to diffuse the expected fallout. According to one leadership staffer, the new revenue estimates mean, quote, "we'll just barely miss having to dip into the Social Security trust fund."

Meantime, Senator Jesse Helms apparently is sending a message to fellow Republican Elizabeth Dole that he will not seek re-election next year, so she should run for his seat. Our John King is hearing that Bob Dole has quoted Helms as saying: "Tell Elizabeth to break out her running shoes." Several people who have talked with Bob Dole recently say they are convinced that Elizabeth Dole is all but certain to run for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina, assuming Helms does indeed retire.

And this other tidbit from our John King: sources say that Clinton stay on Martha's Vineyard this weekend is all about donor maintenance. Included on Bill Clinton's schedule: a golf outing today with big Democratic contributors and a dinner tonight honoring senator and potential presidential hopeful John Kerry.

Meantime, Clinton is being honored in his native Arkansas -- get this -- on trading cards. It's a new promotion for the city of Hot Springs. Hundreds of people turned out today to buy the first 300,000 copies of those cards.

And we'll be back with some more news in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MESERVE: And that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Jeanne Meserve. "FIRST EVENING NEWS" is next.

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