White House Softens Tone On Embryo Use

Tony Snow Stem Cell
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow speaks in the briefing room of the White House in Washington on Tuesday, July 18, 2006. Snow apologized, Monday, July 24, 2006, for suggesting that President Bush believed stem-cell research amounted to "murder," saying he was "overstating the president's position." (Pablo Martinez Monsivais - AP)
By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 25, 2006

President Bush does not consider stem cell research using human embryos to be murder, the White House said yesterday, reversing its description of his position just days after he vetoed legislation to lift federal funding restrictions on the hotly disputed area of study.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said yesterday that he "overstated the president's position" during a briefing last week but said Bush rejected the bill because "he does have objections with spending federal money on something that is morally objectionable to many Americans."

The shifting terminology underscored the sensitivity of the issue, especially heading into midterm elections. Many antiabortion conservatives strongly oppose stem cell research involving the destruction of embryos, viewing it as killing human beings. But polls show that most Americans see such research as a potential key to treating Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries and other afflictions.

In using the first veto of his presidency to preserve federal funding restrictions, Bush reassured social conservatives who have grown uncertain about his leadership.

Snow described Bush's position last Tuesday, the day before the veto. "The president believes strongly that for the purpose of research it's inappropriate for the federal government to finance something that many people consider murder. He's one of them," Snow said from the White House. "The simple answer is he thinks murder's wrong."

The president did not use that term the next day at the veto ceremony, but he did say he objected to the legislation because it "would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others."

Tim Russert, host of NBC's "Meet the Press," grilled White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten on Sunday about whether Bush agreed with Snow's characterization. Bolten avoided a direct answer several times and then finally said, "I haven't spoken to him about the use of particular terminology."

At yesterday's briefing, Snow retracted his statement and apologized. "I overstepped my brief there, and so I created a little trouble for Josh Bolten in the interview," Snow said. "And I feel bad about it."

"So the president does not regard this as murder?" a reporter asked.

"He would not use that term," Snow said.

Supporters of the research said the shift reflects White House concerns that it is alienating mainstream Republicans. "What Tony Snow was doing was calling them all murderers, and that doesn't do much for close midterm elections," said Michael Manganiello, former president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a group that opposes embryonic stem cell research, said he does not see much significance in the White House revision. "I'm not troubled by that at all," he said. "The president's actions speak louder than words."

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