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Obama Lifts Stem Cell Limits; Bail or Fail?; Medical Hope, Moral Objection; The Money Players; Medical Hope, Moral Objection; 12,000 Troops Out in Six Months; Pastor Gunned Down in Pulpit; Public Transit Ridership Hits 52-Year High
Aired March 9, 2009 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: So there you have it. Signature to executive order, a medical hope, moral objection. President Obama signs an order overturning limits on federal dollars for embryonic stem-cell research. The order reverses the policies of the Bush administration.
Let's bring in our White House correspondent now, Suzanne Malveaux. She joins us live.
And Suzanne, this, at the very least, fulfills a campaign promise made from this president made during the presidential campaign.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly does, Tony. He talked about it throughout the campaign.
And one of the things, however, you and I were talking about was this idea about policy and ideology versus science. He made it very, very clear in that memo that he is signing. He said it's a false choice between sound science and moral values.
He also took on his critics very directly, saying a lot of people obviously concerned if this is a slippery moral slope. We've heard from some of those critics. And he said he does not support in any way cloning for the sake of human reproduction, and it's something that is dangerous and certainly would not be tolerated.
He also mentioned as well a face that we had all come to see and really cherish, that of the late Christopher Reeve, who really took this on as his own cause after his own riding accident, making embryonic stem-cell research something that he gave his life to. And so he said something about, there's no finish line when it comes to science and research, that really, it's an ongoing process. And a nod to those scientists there, about a half-dozen or so doctors, that he gave that nod to, saying that this would be an administration that he believed would be different than the Bush administration in recognizing the value and the integrity of science and not letting politics get in the way of it so much -- Tony.
HARRIS: And you know, Suzanne, this whole idea of the memorandum that the president also signed, this idea of setting forth a strategy to separate science from the political process, is that -- it strikes me as being a little bit of wishful thinking. I mean, I can't imagine that you can really do that as partisan as the debate can be sometimes. And if you look at the some of the comments over the weekend from Representative Cantor, this idea seems a bit far-fetched, that you would be able, through a memorandum and through the discussion that leads from the memorandum, to separate science from the political process.
MALVEAUX: It certainly is going to be a tough thing to do, Tony.
MALVEAUX: Obviously, a lot of people have very strong feelings about this. I think a lot of it really depends on how you define human life, how you view the embryo there, and the need and the purpose for it. And so there's going to be a lot of debate about this. And it is very difficult to take one's own beliefs and morals out of the picture.
There were a lot of issues under the Bush administration that really guided the former president when it came to stem-cell research, when it came to religion and education, when it came to the abortion issue...
HARRIS: Yes. Yes.
MALVEAUX: ... when it came to climate change. All of those things, there was a sense that, yes, the president, President Bush, his own beliefs certainly were a part of weighing into which direction the administration should go. I imagine that, you know, as much as President Obama will try to do that, there will be some sway.
HARRIS: Yes, absolutely.
All right. Our White House Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.
Great to see you, as always, Suzanne. Thank you.
HARRIS: Let's bring in our Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.
So, as we watch these pictures of the president in the East Room, what he does after any of these events, he goes and he shakes hands and he spends some time with people in the room.
As he's doing that, I'm thinking, OK, you signed the executive order, Mr. President. What now? What happens next?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. You don't reverse an eight-year policy like that just with a signature.
COHEN: That's a start, but I think that nobody should be anticipating that all of a sudden, we're going to start seeing cures using embryonic stem cells tomorrow or next week or next month, or some would say don't even expect until next year, that it takes a while. The Bush policy, some say, many say, truly hampered embryonic stem-cell research in this country. He limited funding so much, that researchers who were on their way to finding new treatments were, to some extent, stopped dead in their tracks.
So it could take years to get that sort of revved up again.
HARRIS: So I'm a doctor, and I run, I operate an IV (sic).
HARRIS: IVF -- thank you. An IF clinic. OK?
The executive order is signed. Am I thinking to myself, OK, there is a whole new line of research available now, there is a whole lot of pent-up demand that has to be satisfied? Do I then -- am I tempted to overproduce embryos?
COHEN: Right. The embryonic stem-cell research, you need embryos, obviously.
COHEN: Right. Where do embryos live? Embryos live in IVF clinics, in vitro fertilization. Couples come there, they create embryos. Some of the embryos are used to start a family, but often there are embryos that are not used and that sit at those clinics.
And I have indeed heard what Tony just said, sort of this concern, well, gosh, are these IVF clinics going to start getting parents to produce even more embryos so that they can then try to sell those to scientists? I mean, I think those are some of the ethical issues that need to be worked out by this panel that the president referred to. And when they spend this 120 days kind of coming up with a plan, that's definitely a concern that I'm sure they're going to keep in mind.
HARRIS: Have we talked about the cloned human embryos yet in our time together?
COHEN: We haven't talked about cloning. We've been together for an hour and we haven't talked about cloning.
HARRIS: OK. So will you walk us through that debate a bit and help us understand why there are real concerns about that?
COHEN: Right. Here's the concern.
You create an embryo so that you can do embryonic stem-cell research. Now, some scientists say it would be useful to then clone that embryo because it makes it easier to do the kind of research that you want to do to get the medical treatments you're looking for.
Well, cloning an embryo is a little bit problematic, because would that be the first step to cloning a human being? Because if you have two cloned embryos, you put them in a woman's uterus, you then are -- you're cloning someone. So there have been real concerns about making cloned embryos, because on the one hand, it might be useful to getting the medical treatments we want.
COHEN: On the other hand, no one is for producing cloned human beings.
COHEN: Nobody in their right mind -- I'm going to go out on a limb and say that. I've never heard a respected person say, yes, let's clone human beings. But I have heard respectable people say cloning embryos and keeping them at that embryonic stage is useful for science.
HARRIS: You're so awesome. Thanks for your help.
HARRIS: Thank you.
Our Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.
You know, the president's decision on stem cells, while not unexpected, reopens a moral can of worms.
Last hour, Elizabeth Cohen and I talked with Professor Arthur Caplan. He chairs the Department of Medical Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania.
COHEN: I was speaking to a woman who is an opponent of embryonic stem-cell research. And she said, "Look, I consider embryos sitting in a fertility clinic human beings, and I think it's unethical, it's murder to destroy them, and I don't want my taxpayer money going to that destruction."
What would you say to her?
PROF. ARTHUR CAPLAN, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: Well, I'd say this, the embryo that's are left behind -- and remember, Elizabeth, there are probably 600,000 in the U.S. alone left behind by couples who don't want them anymore, trying to have babies, but they did, or they gave up because they couldn't afford it, or they got divorced, or they died. Those embryos' fates are sealed. They will be destroyed. Better to have something good happen, research that might benefit people in wheelchairs, or help kids with juvenile diabetes, than simply to have them destroyed at the clinics. We're not going to see any other fate for those embryos other than they're going to be destroyed.
COHEN: Now, I think some folks would disagree with you and would say, well, all right, you could take those embryos and give them to a family that does want them. There are families that would love to adopt those embryos and put them into the wife's womb and grow them into a child. CAPLAN: You know, I would agree with that. Last year in the United States, we had 70 embryo adoptions. If we really pushed, we might get a couple dozen more. Six hundred thousand embryos, roughly 100 people adopting an embryo each year, that's not the answer. I know that some people wish that we could find parents to take 600,000 embryos on, we're not going to do that. Most of these embryos are too old. They're going to wind up being destroyed. I say, and I think President Obama agrees, let's use them in research if we're going to have to destroy them anyway.
HARRIS: So smart. What a good discussion.
Embryonic stem-cell research has been going on in the private sector. We will talk with one researcher on the progress he's seen so far.
Enough bailouts already. Two Republican senators say let the big banks fail.
HARRIS: Three key nominations at the Treasury Department: Alan Krueger, as assistant treasury secretary for economic policy; Kim Wallace, in charge of legislative affairs; David Cohen will handle terrorist financing.
Secretary Timothy Geithner is working on the financial crisis with a skeleton staff. Dozens of top posts, including the number two at Treasury, remain empty.
Taxpayers have poured $146 billion into -- think about that number for a second, $146 billion into banks and other financial firms since October. Five months later, many of them are still teetering because of toxic mortgage debt.
Prominent Republican senators say banks that can't be propped up should be allowed to fail, no matter their size. For starters, Arizona's John McCain says the Obama administration can't save them all.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I don't think they've made the hard decision, and that is to let these banks fail, to let General Motors go into bankruptcy and reemerge and reorganize with new contracts with labor and others. I don't think they've made the tough decisions. Some of these banks have to fail.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS: OK. So let's dig deeper with the co-host of CNN's "YOUR $$$$$," Christine Romans.
Christine, you heard the sound bite. You heard it from the weekend. What do you think, should we let some of the banks fail?
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, and some of these banks are failing. Seventeen banks have failed so far this year, 25 banks failed last year.
HARRIS: You know what he's talking about, though. He's talking about...
ROMANS: He's talking about the big ones.
HARRIS: Yes. Yes. Yes.
ROMANS: He's talking about the big mega banks. And his colleague, Senator Richard Shelby, said we should bury some of the big banks.
ROMANS: Bury them, because, you know, they have failed. And when I talk to economists and I talk to people tied into the administration, they go into a cold sweat when you talk about burying a bank, because we buried Lehman Brothers, and a lot of folks mark that as the beginning of the end of the unraveling of the global economy.
HARRIS: Do they really say that, Christine?
ROMANS: A lot of people are saying that Lehman Brothers was a mistake, and they're very worried about an AIG going down. They say AIG would be going down like Lehman on steroids. They're worried about what would happen to Citi.
Now, here's the other question, Tony.
ROMANS: You said, should we just let the market do its job, right?
ROMANS: Should we just back up? Isn't it too late? Haven't we already been to the tune of trillions of dollars intervening in the free market since Bear Stearns last March?
ROMANS: I mean, there are some people...
HARRIS: That would be cutting and running, right?
ROMANS: ... who say we've already gone so far down this path of managing what happens next, that there's no going back.
Are we bailing out the banks or are we bailing out the American economy? That's the philosophical debate you get in between people who think that you're not just -- the money you're spending now on the banking sector, the big banks, is less than it would be if you let one of these banks go down.
HARRIS: Well, here's what I don't understand then. So you hear that from Senator Shelby, you hear that from Senator McCain. And what I don't understand is, I'm -- as you know, I'm watching all of this financial stuff, and you and Ali and everyone else. And what I'm hearing from other market analysts is a lot of criticism of the steps being taken by this administration. OK?
ROMANS: That's right.
HARRIS: But what I haven't heard yet is a real strong pushback against that kind of talk, the kind of talk from John McCain, the kind of talk from Richard Shelby. I haven't heard strong pushback to that suggestion.
ROMANS: It's interesting, because the pushback that I'm hearing is the pushback from the markets and the veterans in the markets, is that this administration and the prior administration, what they've done hasn't been the right mix yet. We haven't found the right mix.
If anything, you look at Paul Krugman, you know, a Nobel Prize- winning economist in "The New York Times" today saying that we haven't done enough yet, and we haven't done it correctly. So on the one hand, you have Senators McCain and Shelby saying just let the big banks fail, and on the other hand, you have people saying, no, we need more to be done, more to be done to fix the banking system.
ROMANS: Like I said, it's a philosophical debate that still is raging, and the market is telling us that they haven't found the right solution, whatever that solution is.
HARRIS: Well, weigh this. Are more people in the camp that says you've got to do more to fix it, or are more people in this camp that says the big banks should be allowed to fail and let the markets work?
ROMANS: The public -- I would argue the public is saying we don't want any more bailouts, we're sick and tired of this.
ROMANS: The economists and the academics and the policymakers are saying, oh, my lord, we have to do more. We have to do more and we have to figure out how to get stability in the banking sector. So there are two very different points of view out there, at least two different points of view.
HARRIS: Yes. So we have to do maybe a better job of sort of explaining the various points of view and what happens under each scenario. Does that make sense?
ROMANS: That makes sense. And a couple of economists just in the past few days, Tony, have told me that two administrations in a row now haven't done a good job of communicating the urgency of this.
ROMANS: That, you know, one economist was telling me this is not about bailing somebody out. This is about spending the money for a toxic waste cleanup.
ROMANS: That helps everyone, and that neither administration has explained that there is a toxic dump in your back yard and these are cleanup costs, not bailout costs.
HARRIS: Right. Well, then if the administrations aren't doing the job, then let us do it. Let the two of us. We'll do it every day, right here in the NEWSROOM.
ROMANS: We'll see what we can do. We'll see what we can do.
HARRIS: All right, Christine. Thank you.
HARRIS: Shocked parishioners after a gunman busts into church.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we just sat down in a chair, and "Pop, pop, pop." We just couldn't imagine what happened. And some -- they ran out, 911, "The pastor's down and has been shot."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS: They were witness to the deadly shooting of their preacher.
HARRIS: You know, the issue over embryonic stem cells heating up this morning with President Obama's decision to end the previous administration's restrictions. President Bush revealed his policy on funding embryonic stem-cell research, you'll recall, in 2001.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have concluded that we should allow federal funds to be used for research on these existing stem-cell lines where the life and death decision has already been made. Leading scientists tell me research on these 60 lines have great promise that could lead to breakthrough therapies and cures. This allows us to explore the promise and potential of stem-cell research without crossing a fundamental moral line by providing taxpayer funding that would sanction or encourage further destruction of human embryos that have at least the potential for life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS: You know, we can't forget there is private research into stem cells. Let's talk about that and how today's decision impacts private research.
Dr. Joshua Hare is a cardiologist and director of the Stem Cell Institute at the University of Miami.
Doctor, appreciate it. Thanks for your time. It's good to see you.
DR. JOSHUA HARE, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI, STEM CELL INST.: Thank you. A pleasure to be with you.
HARRIS: Well, let me first ask you, what do you think the impact of today's decision will be on your research?
HARE: This is an extremely important thing for biomedical research in general. We really are in an era of cell-based therapies. We've already been using cell-based therapies experimentally for about 10 years.
HARRIS: Explain that. Can you...
HARE: We've had this big restriction hanging over us.
HARRIS: Yes. Can I -- cell-based therapies, would you explain what that means?
HARE: Yes. For example, if you have a heart attack, which is a very common thing -- it occurs a million times a year in the United States -- a big area of your heart muscle is permanently destroyed. And we take cells from the bone marrow or other parts of the body which are adult stem cells and try to use those cells to repair the damage.
HARRIS: Talk to us about why these embryonic stem cells are so coveted by people like you and research facilities like yours? What characteristics do they have that make them different from other types of cells?
HARE: You can think of an embryonic stem cell as the most -- the ultimate stem cell. It is the cell that can turn into every type of tissue in the body, every type of cell and tissue in the body -- neurons, pancreatic tissue...
HARRIS: So they can be programmed.
HARE: ... that make insulin, heart muscle. They -- well, they -- they have the capacity to turn into every type of tissue, and depending on the environment in which they're put, they can turn into every type of tissue.
HARRIS: Can you make the -- I'm going to ask you to maybe argue against yourself here, maybe against your research. Can you at least make the argument for the slippery slope that many feel we're on now by virtue of the president signing this executive order? And what we keep hearing time and time again is this whole idea of cloned human embryos.
HARE: Yes, I don't think that there's a slippery slope. There's always though fear of a slippery slope.
But medicine is a very ethical profession. We don't do any type of human research of any kind without very significant ethical oversight by committees at our universities, committees at the NIH. All research is very, very carefully overseen.
And ultimately, the goal of medicine is to help people, not to harm people. So we're always balancing these types of issues.
HARRIS: Dr. Hare, appreciate your time. Thank you so much.
HARE: It's a pleasure. Thanks.
HARRIS: All right. We want to know what you think about this topic. E-mail us at email@example.com.
She worked across the aisle to get the stem-cell policy reversed and was at the president's signing today as he signed the order. We will ask Congresswoman Diane DeGette all about it in just a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R), MINORITY WHIP: Why are we going and distracting ourselves from the economy? This is job number one. Let's focus on what needs to be done.
But as far as the issue of stem-cell research, I don't know anybody who is not supportive of that. What we're talking about here though is embryonic stem-cell research, and the question of federal funding of that.
And frankly, federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research can bring on embryo harvesting, perhaps even human cloning that occurs. We don't want that. That shouldn't be done, that's wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: So the fact that the president is willing to once again say to the rest of the world that we will be the beacon for cures and for hope, my religion teaches me to heal the sick. And God gave us this intelligence to find cures for the sick. I think it's a great moment, and I'm proud of him for reversing that executive order that was President Bush's.
(END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS: OK. Two opposing views in the medical and moral tug-of- war over stem-cell research. Last hour, President Obama today -- or last hour signed an executive order lifting restrictions on the use of federal dollars for embryonic research.
CNN's Sandra Endo joins us live from Washington with details.
And Sandra, good to see you.
The president, in essence, fulfilled a campaign promise by signing this executive order.
SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Barack Obama is really embracing embryonic stem cell research. He really wants to send a message that this White House is going to separate science and politics.
ENDO (voice over): President Barack Obama believes a possible breakthrough in scientific discovery could be found in embryonic stem cell research. And today's executive order allows for more federal funds to be used in that effort.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Scientists believe these tiny cells may have the potential to help us understand and possibly cure some of our most devastating diseases and conditions.
ENDO: Under a Bush administration policy enacted in 2001, public money was limited to research on a small number of stem cell lines that had already been created from destroyed embryos.
BUSH: Without crossing a fundamental moral line by providing taxpayer funding that would sanction or encourage further destruction of human embryos that have at least the potential for life.
ENDO: Critics opposed the research on moral grounds, since it involves destroying human embryos. They suggest using stem cells from adult bone marrow, the skin or placenta to possibly find cures for diseases or paralysis.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Frankly, federal funding of embryonic stem cell research can bring on embryo harvesting, perhaps even human cloning that occurs. We don't want that. That shouldn't be done. That's wrong.
ENDO: But supporters of the president's move say they too have the moral ground.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My religion teaches me to heal the sick. And God gave us this intelligence to find cures for the sick.
ENDO: Now, the president's executive order calls on the National Institutes of Health to create revised guidelines for federal funding on the research within 120 days - Tony.
HARRIS: Sandra, good to see you. Thank you.
Republican Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey calls embryonic stem cell research unethical, unworkable and unreliable. He points to advances in research using adult stem cells. Representative Smith joining us now from Capitol Hill.
Good to see you, sir.
REP. CHRIS SMITH (R), NEW JERSEY: Tony, good to see you. How are you?
HARRIS: Great. Thank you.
You know, you've also called embryonic stem cell research unnecessary. How so?
SMITH: Especially in light of the recent breakthroughs in what's called Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, IPSLs, which are the biggest break through I think in modern times where skin...
HARRIS: Well, explain that to us.
SMITH: Well, skin cells can be now coaxed into becoming embryo- like without destroying embryos. So human embryos are out of the mix. And those stem cells will have the potential of not being rejected by the immune system if they're transplanted.
SMITH: They will not have other ethical baggage, which obviously embryonic stem cells have. And it is the future. This is the biggest breakthrough ever. It occurs in 2007. Just last week, another big breakthrough occurred so that these aren't -- the efficacy of those stem cells couldn't be higher. I believe that Barack Obama is turning the clock back and is really going back to what was 10 years ago. Yes, it sounded like embryonic stem cells were the future. They're not. And now we're going to federally fund -- you know, they've been legal. Researchers could have used stem cells derived from embryos all these years.
HARRIS: Right, right.
SMITH: It's all about federal funding and whether or not we're complicit in that.
HARRIS: Well, representative, let me -- let's have a conversation. Let me in here for just a moment to suggest to you that what we've been hearing from folks this morning is that the promise of these embryonic stem cells is the idea that they are not programmed, that they can potentially be programmed in a way that the other cells that you're mentioning can't be.
SMITH: Sure. Sure. First of all, other types of adult stem cells, including cord blood, and I wrote the law in 2005 to create a nationwide program for cord blood research and transplantation. But they can be coaxed into becoming pluripotent as well. But these new IPS cells are plastic. They're very flexible and have the ability to become every body layer, every germ -- layer, every tissue type within the body with no ethical baggage. That's why it's astounding to me that Barack Obama is living in 10 years ago science. Even Dr. Thomson from the University of Wisconsin has said this will make the idea of embryonic stem cells an historical footnote.
SMITH: So we've moved beyond embryonic, thank God, which are unethical. They kill newly formed human life. And we now have an ethical alternative and the greatest -- like I said -- breakthrough. And I hope it becomes a household word, IPSLs.
HARRIS: So you see -- right, you see the embryo as human life...
SMITH: Oh, without a doubt.
HARRIS: And not potential life.
SMITH: No, it is a human life from the moment of conception. The only thing that happens to any one of us is growth and maturity. Life is a continuum. And we don't want to be dependent for regenerative medicine on destroying human embryos. If it ever did work, that is to say human embryo destroying stem cell research, if it ever did work, millions upon millions of embryos would have to be destroyed in order to derive their stem cells. Thank God there is an alternative that works that is also ethical.
HARRIS: Are you -- everyone tells us in everything that we read that embryos are being destroyed now. They're being discarded now.
SMITH: Some are being destroyed. But once the federal government provides...
HARRIS: Are you as upset about that process?
SMITH: Of course I am. But, you know, here's something else -- and I'm holding a press conference in about an hour. We'll have some of these kids that are known as snowflake children, who were in these cryogenic tanks. The biological parents didn't want them anymore, so they donated them to another couple and those children, or two, three, four, five years old, were adopted first as frozen embryos. That's how you deal with so-called leftover embryos. You don't destroy them. And to talk about leftover embryos, the way people on the other side do, cheapens and dehumanized basic human life.
HARRIS: Representative Smith, thanks for your time. Appreciate it.
SMITH: Thank you very much.
HARRIS: All right. She helped get the stem cell policy reversed and was at the president's side today as he signed the order. Congresswoman Diane DeGette will tell us all about it. That's next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
HARRIS: And just a couple of moments ago, we received this reaction from former First Lady Nancy Reagan to the president's executive order today. And she writes, "I urge researchers to make use of the opportunities that are available to them and to do all they can to fulfill the promise that stem cell research offers." Also adding, "We owe it to ourselves and to our children to do everything in our power to find cures for these diseases and soon."
Several supporters of embryonic stem cell research were present last hour as President Obama signed the executive order lifting limits on the research. Among the witnesses, Colorado Representative Diana DeGette. She joins me live from the White House. And, congresswoman, I hope I -- did I mangle your name this time? Did I do . . .
REP. DIANA DEGETTE (D), COLORADO: I'm sorry?
HARRIS: Was it better? Did I pronounce your name better this time?
DEGETTE: Yes. Yes, you pronounced it better this time.
HARRIS: Before this moment, I've been in the company with the president in mispronouncing your name, is that correct?
DEGETTE: Exactly. Yes. You and the president.
HARRIS: All right.
DEGETTE: But I think you got it right the next time.
HARRIS: One of the rare occasions when I'll be sharing company with the president.
It's good to have you on the program today.
As you heard just a moment ago, powerful support from a former first lady for this decision from the president today to sign this executive order. Your thoughts as this process unfolded and being in the room today.
DEGETTE: Well, I think it's a great day for science and I think it's a great day for research. Expanding what kinds of ethical cell- based research can be done is so important to finding the cures for diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and nerve regeneration and diabetes. It's very exciting for the patients of America.
HARRIS: Well, I have to ask you a question. We just had Representative Chris Smith, one of your colleges, who was on just a moment ago who said, among other things, that this research is unnecessary and dated. How would you respond to that?
DEGETTE: Well, he's not correct. All the researchers tell us embryonic stem cell research is still very, very important. We've had some exciting new discoveries in the last few years of other types of cell-based research. And I'm as excited about them as I am the embryonic stem cell research. But really, policymakers are not the ones to be making decisions, telling scientists what type of research will find the cures. Instead, it's our job to really support all ethical types of cell-based research. And that's what the president reaffirmed today.
HARRIS: Well, Congresswoman, let me ask you the question I've been asking all of our guests this morning. What is the sort of moral status of these embryos? Are we talking about life or potential life?
DEGETTE: What we need to remember, these are embryos which are created to give life. They're created for in vitro fertilization techniques. And then they're the embryos that are left over. These embryos are thrown away as medical waste. And so what we do with our bill and what the president did today is, we allow the embryos to be donated by the couples they were created for to be used for research. Many pro-life advocates say this is the ultimate pro-life decision, to take something created to give life through IVF, which is slated to be thrown away, and then to allow them to be donated so that they can help cure diseases and save millions of more lives.
HARRIS: Forgive, I'm going to ask it once again, life or potential life?
DEGETTE: That's above my pay grade.
HARRIS: Very nice. Congresswoman, we understand you're getting battered by 40 miles per hour winds. We thank you for your time. Thank you.
DEGETTE: That's all right. It's all part of the job. Take care.
HARRIS: All right. Take care.
U.S. troops getting out of Iraq. How soon will they leave?
HARRIS: Flowers in tribute to two British soldiers killed in northern Ireland. A militant group calling itself the real IRA is claiming responsibility for the attack. The soldiers were killed when two men sprayed them with machine gunfire. That has sparked fears that violence is returning to the province. Northern Ireland was wracked for decades really by violence between those who want to remain part of the U.K. and those who want to join the Republic of Ireland.
Twelve thousand U.S. troops coming home from Iraq over the next 12 months. That is the latest plan from military officials. Live now to our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson for us in Baghdad.
Nic, good to see you. Let's start with this. The draw down of 12,000 U.S. troops. Is this a new draw down or a draw down that was already scheduled?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This seems to be part of the draw down that President Barack Obama has outlined, that is U.S. troops out of the centers of the cities of Iraq by June this year, end of combat operations by August next year, and by the end of 2011, all but perhaps 35,000 to 50,000 troops left behind. So this seems to be part of that, perhaps starting slightly earlier than people were anticipating. But that's what we're looking at, Tony.
HARRIS: Is it clear -- well, it seems to me, anyway, that it's clear more and more of the burden of protecting Iraqis is going to fall to the Iraqi police and the army. The general question is, are they ready? And I guess the other part of that question is, how is the training going?
ROBERTSON: Well, the training's going well. And certainly that's what we hear from the ministry of interior in Iraq. They say that they're recruiting another 60,000 police this year. They have about half a million. So you can clearly see that the numbers are ramping up. Iraq security forces more numerous, more spread around the country.
And if you look at what's happening across the country, you know, Baghdad, the center of violence over the past couple of days. There have been other attacks. This is where you see some of the violence, perhaps just north of Baghdad in the city of Mosul, further north as well. But in a lot of the other areas of the country, it is relatively peaceful. So in those areas, the police, the army, having a much easier job. But they don't have all the wherewithal yet. They don't have the helicopters, the air assets, these sorts of things. And the insurgents and militias are still out there.
HARRIS: You have to talk to us about the attack on Iraqi police over the weekend. And in that context, I'm just curious as to what are Iraqis to think about the ability of their armed forces to protect them when -- as evidenced by that most recent attack over the weekend. They weren't able to protect themselves.
ROBERTSON: Well, that's right. What you have there was a line of people waiting to be recruited at the main police recruitment center in Baghdad. A place insurgents have targeted before. A place where the police know that they have a problem keeping these recruits safe. And the recruits there, some said they were called forward and told to come back, left waiting for two hours. So a lot of complaints there about how the police themselves handled what was a very dangerous situation.
But what Iraqis here tell us, and we've met with various people since I've been back here, and I'm surprised to hear it, a lot of concern about the U.S. troop withdrawal. They see it happening. They hear about these reports. And they worry about what's going to happen and how the violence may ramp up. Insurgents, militias just waiting for U.S. troops to back away from the fight here.
HARRIS: Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson. That's kind of a scary prospect.
Nic, appreciate it. Thank you.
Are Americans ditching their cars for the train? A look at how commuter habits may be changing.
HARRIS: And this just in. The 27-year-old suspect in the church shooting in Illinois is now charged with first-degree murder. Reverend Fred Winters was gunned down during Sunday's sermon at First Baptist Church in Maryville, Illinois. That is a suburb of St. Louis. Our Carol Costello has details.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And at first we thought that it was confetti. But later we found that he shot through his Bible and disintegrated his bible.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): The relative quiet among the congregants inside the First Baptist Church in Maryville, Illinois, quickly turned to chaos Sunday morning. Police say an unidentified gunman calmly walked down the aisle during the Reverend Fred Winters sermon, exchanged a few words with the well- liked pastor, then pulled out a gun and opened fire.
LARRY TRENT, DIR., ILLINOIS STATE POLICE: The suspect said something to the pastor and the pastor said something back to him. We don't know what that was. It was almost as if the pastor may have recognized him, but we're not sure about that at all.
COSTELLO: After the shots rang out, the Reverend Winters ran down the aisle before collapsing. Parishioners dropped for cover, praying and fearing they might be next.
CLAUDIA BOHLEY, WITNESS: They were down on their knees and on the floor screaming and praying and it was -- it was a terrible thing. It was just terrible.
COSTELLO: Police say the killer pulled a knife after his gun finally jammed. That's when two parishioners tackled him to the floor. In the struggle, all three men were stabbed. Both the gunman and one of those heroic churchgoers seriously injured. Besides his wife and two children, Pastor Winters leaves behind his flock, which had grown to some 1,000 members since he took over the church more than 20 years ago.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He knew your name the minute you walked in the door.
COSTELLO: Even with over 1,000 members?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He knew your name.
COSTELLO: As for the two men who tackled the gunmen, one of them, Terry Bullard, remains in the hospital in serious condition. The other man, Keith Milton, is at home recovering. The gunman is in serious condition with knife wounds to his neck. Police will spend the day listening to audiotapes from inside the church to figure out what words were exchanged between the pastor and his killer before the gunfire broke out.
Carol Costello, CNN, Washington.
HARRIS: And, once again, this just in and confirmed by CNN. The 27-year-old suspect in this case has been charged with first-degree murder in this case, the shooting of the pastor there in Illinois.
A few of the other top economic headlines for you today.
President Obama's auto task force is in Detroit today test driving the Chevy Volt, GM's new electric car. The group is trying to determine GM and Chrysler's long-term viability. Both companies are seeking new federal loans.
AAA says gas prices are falling. A gallon of regular unleaded is down to $1.94. Down two-tenths of a cent.
And high gas prices and the recession pushed more Americans on to mass transit last year. Industry figures show more than 10 billion trips on mass transit in 2008. That is up four percent.
Let do this. Let's get a little bit more on those mass transit numbers. Let's check in with Stephanie Elam, who has our "Energy Fix" from New York.
Good to see you, Stephanie.
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you too, Tony.
Yes, you know, Americans actually took 10.7 billion trips on public transit last year. That's the most since 1956. Now we know gas prices, they definitely had a lot to do with it.
ELAM: Check out how ridership spiked in the third quarter. And this shouldn't be to much of a surprise because it was right as gas prices hit a record $4.11. But ridership growth slowed noticeably in the fourth quarter as gas prices came down. Nevertheless, the overall trend still shows an increase. People were still jumping on public transit even as pump prices fell.
What we don't know for sure is why. Some experts say we've seen a permanent shift away from driving in this country as driving has declined for 14 straight months. Others say this is just a temporary situation as people try to save money by taking the bus or train. Either way, advocates are pushing for more investment in transit. Now the stimulus bill sets aside nearly $8.5 billion for public transportation and transit officials are pushing for even more federal funding - Tony.
HARRIS: Well, let's work this out a little bit. If ridership hit a 52-year high last year, why aren't transit systems sort of rolling in dough here?
ELAM: Yes, that's a really good question because I know here in New York you hear a lot of discussion about that. But agencies blame the slumping economy. Huge budget shortfalls and falling sales and property tax revenues have forced many agencies to raise fares and cut service. And despite last year's huge surge in ridership that we heard so much about, the trend probably won't continue. That's because so many commuters are losing their jobs and that's who's really riding these trains and buses. Nearly 60 percent of public transit users are going to and from work. That shouldn't be too much of a surprise.
But, Tony, as always, if you need another energy fix, you want another one, you know you can go to cnnmoney.com. We got a whole bunch of them there.
HARRIS: Well, I'm sure I do. Well, I'm sure I'm going to need another one about five minutes from now.
All right, Stephanie, thank you. Can't get enough.
And President Obama showing some moves. Roll the tape.
OK. Having a little fun at a celebration for Ted Kennedy's birthday.
HARRIS: How about this. President Obama leading everyone in singing happy birthday to Senator Ted Kennedy last night. Now let's roll this here. Watch the president strut his stuff before giving the senator a hug. How about this, huh? He dances like every uncle you've ever known in your life, doesn't he? What an event. Bill Cosby, James Taylor, Bernadette Peters. Lots of big names paying tribute to Ted Kennedy, who actually turned 77 a couple of weeks ago.
We've got to go. The NEWSROOM continues right now with Kyra Phillips.