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President Bush on Stem Cells

Aired August 9, 2001 - 10:25   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: This is Scott McClellan speaking for the White House. Let's go ahead and listen in.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good morning, everybody. I'll remind you of what I said earlier in the week -- this is a working vacation and I think now you have a better appreciation of what I meant by that. I'm going to make a few remarks and they I'll take some questions.

The White House, as you are aware, earlier this morning contacted the television networks to request time for the president to address the nation this evening at 8:00 p.m. Central, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. The president has reached a decision on the issue of stem cell research. This is a serious, difficult issue that the president has approached in a deliberate and thoughtful manner over the course of the last several weeks and since the beginning of this administration.

The president has carefully considered all the scientific and ethical issues involved and he wants to share decision directly with the American people, and why he reached the decision a that he reached. This is a decision that will have far-reaching implications for our nation 20 to 30 years from now and beyond.

It's an important decision for the entire country, and decisions like this ,as I mentioned, involve science, involve ethics and involve life. And they are far-reaching and they are profound. I want to also make an announcement that the president's counselor, Karen Hughes, will be doing a briefing tomorrow for the press corps at 11:00 a.m. where she will also be providing a ticktock of how the president reached this decision and talking in more details about that decision.

With that, I'm happy to take some questions and talk about this a little bit further -- Scott?

QUESTION: ... opposes federal funds for research that involves destroying human living embryos. Did the president seek a compromise during his deliberations, here?

MCCLELLAN: Scott, that's getting into the decision that the president wants to share directly with the American people. He believes it's appropriate to talk to the American people directly about this decision and I'm not going to speculate about this decision right now. That will be something the president will talk more about tonight. But I would say that this is an issue that many people -- many Americans find the more they learn about it, the more complex it is. And stem cell research, in many ways, is the leading edge of new frontier of science. And as we explore the science, we need to make sure that we do so in say way that adheres to the highest ethical standards.

QUESTION: ... has the president studied this and learned about this, he himself felt it became more complex?

MCCLELLAN: Absolutely. Just the like American people sitting at their dinner tables at home are discussing this issue, they realize the more they talk about it, the more complex it is.

QUESTION: He knows more now -- finds it more complex now than he did when he came out unequivocally against federal funding for this research in the campaign?

MCCLELLAN: I think it's fair, after consulting with dozens of people, that the president, like the American people, realize this is a very complex issue and a complex decision.

QUESTION: Scott, can you give us some insight into the difficulty that the president had in reaching this decision?

MCCLELLAN: Well, the president has -- let me back up for a second and come back to that. But the president has met with or talked directly to dozens of people. He has consulted with members of Congress. He has visited with Secretary Thompson on a number of occasions. Bioethicists, other cabinet members, friends, people afflicted with disease, pro-life Americans. He met with the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. He met with the National Right to Life. He met with Dr. Mendelson at the MBA Cancer Center and talked about this issue. Last week he talked with some NIH scientists about this issue. This is something he's been consulting closely with people on for up until about the last couple of weeks.

QUESTION: Was it a decision he agonized over?

MCCLELLAN: I think he has expressed -- you've heard his own words. This is a very difficult decision. This is a decision -- and I personally have been in meetings with the president where he was visiting with people on other issues, and the president brought this matter up and asked what their opinion was, as well as told them that he realized the seriousness of this issue, and how this issue is going to have far-reaching implications 20 to 30 years down the road.

QUESTION: During the campaign, starting way back in the primaries and right through the general campaign, the president was very clear -- no embryonic stem cell research. Can you tell us the extent to which he has considered ramifications of any modification, the political cost of modifying that stance all? I know that...

MCCLELLAN: You're asking the political costs?

QUESTION: Right. I know he's talked a lot about -- his own words, about the morality and the science. But give us some readout, if you can, on the extent to which political costs or benefits have been part of this...

MCCLELLAN: That's not the way the president approaches decisions. That's not the way he approached this decision. THis is a decision he has made based on what he believes is in the best interest of the American people and the best interest of this nation. The president does not make decisions by polls. The president makes decisions based on what he believes is right for America. And his focus was on the scientific issues involved, the ethical issues involved -- the issues of life. And that will continue to be his focus as we move forward.

QUESTION: How exactly did he reach the decision and what's he going to do today to prepare for the speech? Where is he going to deliver the speech?

MCCLELLAN: The president reached a final decision yesterday and he decided to move forward with that decision yesterday. He was presented with some options on how to make this announcement and the president strongly felt that the most appropriate way was to share it directly with the American people in a national address on network television. The president yesterday was in a meeting that began about 3:30 p.m. It went until about 6:00 p.m. yesterday. He then went' to his exercise room, worked out with weights. He had dinner with Mrs. Bush, then the president continued -- went back to this issue, where he reviewed a speech until about -- and worked on his remarks until about 10:00 last night.

You asked where he will be making this announcement from -- the governor's house, which is the old ranch house at the ranch. He will be sitting in a chair in front of a window that will show some of the landscape of the ranch. This is keeping with what I said a minute ago, that the American people are discussing this issue at their dinner tables. This is a decision that they're discussing in the heartland. And the president believes there's no more appropriate place to do this than at his ranch, where he is in the heartland.

QUESTION: Was a meeting at the ranch yesterday on stem cells?

MCCLELLAN: That's right.

QUESTION: Who was there?

MCCLELLAN: Karen Hughes, Jay Lefkowitz, who has been a policy person who's worked on this issue closely.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) that he reached a decision?

MCCLELLAN: We'll get into the exact timing of that ticktocking, but it was yesterday that he reached a final decision and decided to move forward.

QUESTION: What is the United States' reaction to the reported Palestinian suicide bombing in Jerusalem this morning that is reported to have killed up to 18 people and wounded nearly 90? MCCLELLAN: The president strongly deplores this act of terror. The president expresses his sympathies to the families of the victims. And I think it, once again, shows the need to break the cycle of violence and the need for the parties to come together and begin implementing the Mitchell Report. We intend to issue a statement from the president himself here shortly and we'll get that to you as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Quick follow-up on that -- does the United States want the Palestinian Authority to do more to stop this kind of incident?

MCCLELLAN: Well, again, I mean, he deplores this act of are terror. And I think that you will see more once the statement is issued and then we can talk more about it at that point.

QUESTION: Back on stem cells, we know that the president has consulted widely. To what extent can we be assured that he's sought out fairly balanced points of view for and against? Because we were told that he met with a panel of ethicists.


QUESTION: And to the best that we've been able to discern, the only two ethicists that are known to have met with him in the Oval Office are both opposed to stem cell.

MCCLELLAN: Again, you're getting -- I want the president to be able to make his announcement first before we start ticktocking every detail leading up to this decision. But again, I go back to what I said a minute ago -- the president has met with dozens of people on this issue. Like I said, members of Congress, cabinet members, Secretary Thompson, particularly, bioethicists as you noted, people afflicted with disease. And we'll hopefully have more for you on that tomorrow when Karen -- when Karen ticktocks.


MCCLELLAN: I'll talk to Karen about that. We'll do what we can to get you all that information.

QUESTION: To follow up on the last question. Is it your representation that he has met with people who are on all sides of this issue than listened to and considered the viewpoints of people who are in favor of it as well as...

MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry. Can you speak up.

QUESTION: Yes. Has he listened to people -- consulted with people who are in favor of embryonic stem cell research, as well as those who are opposed to it?

MCCLELLAN: He's heard from all sides, from all sides on this issue. Like I said, I have personal have been in meetings with the president where he raised the issue and asked for the opinions of others. He has been listening carefully to diverse views on this issue, and he is ready to share the conclusion he has come to with the American people tonight.


QUESTION: You have mentioned that Karen Hughes and Jay Lefkowitz were in this meeting. Were Andy and anyone else -- Karl, conferenced in?

MCCLELLAN: He's been consulting closely with the senior staff. A small handful of people are aware of the decision at this point, will continue to brief others as appropriate. I'm not going to get into each particular name, but...

QUESTION: Were the vice president and Tommy Thompson?

MCCLELLAN: Again, we'll ticktock this more tomorrow. But people are -- the senior staff members and senior members of this administration, a small handful of them right now are aware of his decision. And I noted that he has been talking closely with those people you just mentioned throughout this process -- Larry.

QUESTION: What is he doing today for the rest of the day until speech time?

MCCLELLAN: Well, he intends to spend the day at the ranch. He will -- he intends to run, and I imagine that he will also go fishing, as he said he would do on a daily basis while he is here. And he will continue to review his remarks and prepare for his announcement this evening. And as I get more information on his activities today, I'll be glad to share those with you as I can.

Go ahead, John.

QUESTION: Was the first lady involved in any of the meetings yesterday afternoon?

MCCLELLAN: I think the first lady is very well -- very well aware of his decision. And as you heard her last week, she has talked to him about this decision. Steve?

QUESTION: Have the networks give -- said that they will broadcast the speech live...

MCCLELLAN: I don't believe we've heard back. I checked before I came out here and I don't believe we've heard back from them yet. I'm sure they need to consult internally and as we hear back from them I will share that information with you as well.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) ... the speech tonight?

MCCLELLAN: This will be in the -- if there are additional people that may be there, I will share that with you later. But this will be the president in this room in the governor's house talking directly to the nation. It will be the president in that room.

QUESTION: Does the president himself or the senior staff plan to inform anybody else about this issue and the impending announcement? MCCLELLAN: Well, a few people will be briefed as appropriate, but as I said, the president believes strongly that the first people that should really hear about this decision are the American people. And that's why he wants to talk to them tonight in the their homes from his home.

QUESTION: ... calling any members of Congress or leaders of these organizations or...

MCCLELLAN: Well, I will keep you apprised as appropriate. But again, you know, this is a small handful of people who are aware of this decision, and I believe that the first people he really wants to share this with are the American people -- Dick?

QUESTION: The Argentine government is apparently seeking additional loans for the funds...

MCCLELLAN: Let me refer to you treasury on that matter. Let me take a couple of more questions and then I've got to go over to the ranch.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) for tonight?

MCCLELLAN: He has been very involved in the writings of his remarks, as I noted earlier. So...

QUESTION: Will the president be attending services for Maureen Reagan? And was she any part of the consultation or did she ever express her views on stem cell directly to the president?

MCCLELLAN: Not that I'm aware of. As you know, the president issued a statement yesterday. He also wrote a letter to her husband, Dennis, and the president and Mrs. Bush are deeply saddened at her death.

One last one, Larry?

QUESTION: Who made the decision to create the logo on the wall behind you?

MCCLELLAN: Well, I think you've seen -- sure, I think you've seen over the last couple of months more and more people referring to Crawford and the ranch as the western White House, including the media. In the media reports, it's been popping up. And I think it's natural. It really fits with where we are and the president liked the idea. And this is a place that is his home and that he will continue to come to and continue to work from. He is the president 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And he has been in a -- as you are finding out, a good portion of the time here at his home working.

Thank you very much.

666 KAGAN: We've been listening to White House deputy secretary Scott McClellan, talking to us from what, as you heard him describe it, is the western White House in Crawford, Texas, the president there spending a month-long vacation that just started this week.

But more importantly, what we are expecting tonight is that the president will be coming out at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, addressing the nation, saying what his decision will be on federal funding for stem cell research.

Our Kelly Wallace is also in Texas, along with the president.

Kelly, as I had heard, this decision was maybe not coming until August 20. It took some of us by surprise this morning, when we learned that the president will be addressing this nation tonight. Why do you think the earlier announcement is taking place?

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Daryn, the president all along has said that he would make a decision before lawmakers return in September. And the message we've been getting from White House aides is this decision could come at any time. What happened was yesterday the president was sort of bantering with the reporters following his event in Waco, Texas. He was asked if his decision could come next week.

He said that's a possibility. And then to a reporter who had asked him what forum he would like to use to announce his decision, the president sort of talked about his travel schedule over the next few weeks and indicated he would be going to Milwaukee on August 20, and then said he would be going to a city that hasn't been announced yet -- at which point, he said, Hint, with a smile.

But we went to the White House department press secretary Scott McClellan, and he warned against reading anything into what the president said, cautioning us against that thing, saying that the decision could come at any time. And as we heard Scott say, the president clearly made his final decision yesterday, and that he is the one who decided yesterday that he wanted to talk directly to the American people, in the form of this nationally televised address.

The president, we understand, along with Karen Hughes, who worked with him at the ranch yesterday, working together on the speech that the president will deliver to the nation -- it's no surprise, Daryn, Scott McClellan was not revealing what this decision is. We understand, hearing from Scott, just moment ago, that only a small handful of senior advisers know what this decision is. The White House, apparently, is likely, maybe, to be briefing lawmakers later in the day about this decision.

One thing I wanted to point out, Daryn, you heard a lot of my reporter colleagues talking and questioning Scott McClellan about the political consequences here. Mr. Bush has all along said that this decision is way beyond politics, in his words, that it has so much to do with the promise of science and questions of ethics and morality. But this is an important issue for the president, because during the campaign, and just in May, the president said he was against federal funding of research that would involve the destruction of human living embryos. So if the president went ahead and decided to back this research in a way that conservatives or opponents of this research view as the president going against what he said before, they will look at the president as breaking a campaign promise and breaking statements he made back in May.

Also, Daryn, another thing to point out -- all along, there has been some talk about whether or not the president may be seeking a compromise, and you heard Scott McClellan saying he would not address that. One compromise could be -- we underline "could" -- is that the president could allow federal funding research only on those stem cells that have already been removed from human embryos.

Again, a lot of ifs here; we will wait to see what the president says tonight -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Kelly Wallace, in Crawford, Texas, thank you very much.

And you can see that announcement by the president, live, here on CNN, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 p.m. Pacific. We will have it for you live -- Leon.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Let's talk more about this and about the political angle.

Our political analyst Bill Schneider is in Los Angeles, joining us this morning.

Bill, you no doubt have heard President Bush say that this is way beyond the politics, although it wasn't during the campaign, because he did come out with a stance on it. Is that something that's the perfect thing for him to say, although it's kind of hard to believe, at this point?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Certainly, politics is involved in this decision, but it is way beyond it because it's a moral decision, it's a medical decision, it's a scientific decision. There are lots of things that impinge on this. But politically, Leon, you have to say this is a defining moment for President Bush. He will define himself tonight either as a strict conservative who goes by the promise that he made in the campaign or as a different kind of Republican, which he also said that he wanted to be during the campaign -- a compassionate conservative, a conservative who has a different take on things and is not enthralled to the right on a whole list of issues.

HARRIS: With that in mind, what is more important tonight, the decision itself or his explanation of his decision?

SCHNEIDER: Well, they're both important. I think the decision is critically important because if, for instance, he decides to abide by his campaign promise and says that he will outlaw all forms of stem cell research on embryos -- everything but adult stem cell research -- I think that will probably doom any attempt he can make to define himself as a different kind of Republican. But he will, of course, become a hero to the right, of someone who kept his word.

How he makes his decision? If he makes a complex decision, he has to make it clear to the American people that this was not political, he didn't look at the polls -- and I can tell you the polls won't be too much help, because people are very conflicted about this, they feel both ways about it -- but that he reached after very serious soul-searching and consultation.

One of the issues in consultation is did he seriously consult with people on all sides of the issue? Scott McClellan says he did, but some of the reporters were pressing his spokesman to say who he consulted with who support stem cell research. They want to make sure that he got balanced information on this decision.

HARRIS: You say the polling you've been looking at -- and you're the best we have at that -- shows that the American public is conflicted about this, but what do the polls say about cohesive each voting block on either side of this issue may be?

SCHNEIDER: Certainly, there is cohesive on the right. Religious conservative and observant Catholics are mostly opposed to any form of research on what they regard as a living human embryo. They have some misgivings as well because they wonder could this research be medically necessary. Most Americans are of the opinion -- in fact, 54 percent say they believe that this sort of research is morally wrong -- but a somewhat a larger majority -- 69 percent -- believe it's medically necessary.

So every poll that's come out over the last few months on this issue shows that a majority of Americans want the president to allow funding for stem cell research, but they continue to have moral reservations about it. I think the president in his speech tonight has got to indicate that he shares those moral reservations, no matter what he decides.

HARRIS: It's getting clearer and clear, you are right, that this is going to be a defining moment.

Now that have you, let me ask you about something else that we have been covering this morning: What kind of moment are we at right now with Mideast peace, with this suicide bombing incident in Jerusalem this morning. What now for the White House and the president. They have been on the sidelines for some bit and have been putting their toe in the water on this issue. What do you think is going to happen next here?

SCHNEIDER: I think that there will be increasing pressure within the Middle East and around the world for the United States to come out of the sidelines and get more directly engaged in the Middle East problem, because the cease-fire has become a cruel joke. More and more people are being killed. The president's spokesman just said, we see a need for the parties to come together and implement the Mitchell Report, but he didn't acknowledge a bigger need, which is that unless the United States acts to become directly involved, nothing will happen. The process will continue to break down.

What we are seeing is a cycle of escalating violence that is in danger, at any moment, of getting out of control and breaking out into what could become a Middle East war. The United States is crucial in this process. And I repeat: Unless the United States acts here and in the rest of the world, nothing's going to happen.

HARRIS: Could be on two different fronts that we can look back later and say this is a very important day.

Bill Schneider, we thank you very much for the analysis.



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