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Drafting the GOP vision

Platform details party stance on issues


(CNN) -- A week before the 2004 convention, the Republican platform committee is polishing the document detailing its vision on the issues.

Headed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, the committee gathered in New York City on August 25 and 26 to begin drafting the platform.

The convention schedule calls for the committee to approve the platform on August 30, the day the convention begins, and to present it to the convention for a full vote the same day.

The platform committee is composed of one male and one female delegate from every state and territory.

There are five subcommittees each focusing on a single topic: the war on terror, facilitating ownership, the economy, strengthening communities and family values.

Democrats drafted their platform with relative ease and without rancor, although a compromise was struck over the section dealing with Iraq. If there is debate among Republicans, it is likely to be over social issues.

A coalition of moderate Republicans is urging the committee to adopt a "party unity" plank on some key social issues, including abortion, family planning, and gay and lesbian concerns.

In part, the group calls for the platform to read: "We recognize and respect that Republicans of good faith may not agree with all the planks in the party's platform."

"We understand that Republicans of good faith can differ over divisive social issues. However, our platform should respect the diversity of this party," said Patrick Guerriero, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, a group that represents gay members of the party.

The other two groups advocating the unity plank are the pro-choice Republicans for Choice and the Republican Youth Majority.

Debate over same-sex marriage

The Log Cabin Republicans also wrote a letter to the platform committee requesting that the party not take a position on a proposed constitutional amendment that would effectively outlaw same-sex marriages. President Bush supports such an amendment.

"Many Republicans of good faith have expressed deep reservations about a constitutional amendment," Guerriero wrote. "Putting language in the platform about this issue will only further highlight this division during a time the party should be united."

The Family Research Council, an organization that opposes abortion, responded by saying it would fight to keep the platform firmly against abortion and gay marriage.

"The Republican Party is made up of people of different races and different religions, but it is united by certain principles, not the least of which are the beliefs that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and that innocent unborn life should be protected," said Tony Perkins, the council's president.

"President Bush was elected four years ago on such principles, and I believe pro-family voters are even more concerned about those issues today."

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, the former Republican Party chairman, is chairman of the "Protecting Our Families" subcommittee of the platform panel that will hammer out the GOP's stances on abortion and gay marriage.

Barbour has experience with this subject. He was chairman of the 1996 convention when moderates criticized the platform for suggesting that the Constitution should be amended to include a ban on abortion even in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of a pregnant woman.

At the time, Barbour said he had not read the platform. In 2000, candidate George W. Bush avoided a repeat of the 1996 dispute by saying he would allow exceptions in cases when a woman was raped, victimized by incest, or risked her life by continuing a pregnancy.

May dispute Bush on immigration

Immigration may also be a source of conflict. In a Washington Times interview, Frist predicted the GOP platform would oppose amnesty for illegal aliens, contradicting Bush's immigration proposal in January that includes a limited, three-year amnesty for qualified illegal aliens holding jobs in the United States.

Some Republicans have criticized Bush's proposal, and Frist told the newspaper that the platform would likely include a "strong statement" against amnesty.

Frist also said he was handling the platform and not taking orders from the White House or from Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser.

"People always say, 'How close are you working with the administration, with Rove?'" Frist told the newspaper. "I have talked to Karl about the platform for a total of less than two minutes since I began working on this in the last month."

Stem cell research contentious

Stem cell research is another issue that has received attention from outside groups.

Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware, president of the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership, wrote a letter to the platform committee asking them to include language supporting an expansion of the current federal stem cell research policy.

"It is important to show the embryonic stem cell research is not a so-called wedge issue and that it does have bipartisan support," Castle said.

Bush approved federally funded stem cell research three years ago but limited it to the few dozen existing cell lines.

He stopped short of allowing federal funding for research using stem cells derived from frozen embryos, about 100,000 of which exist at fertility clinics across the country.

Scientists and advocacy groups view embryonic stem cell research as one of the best possibilities for finding cures for debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Anti-abortion activists consider stem cell research the taking of a human life because embryos must be destroyed to harvest the stem cells.

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