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… And Then Frist Flip-Flops On Stem Cell Research Funding

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That was quick.

A day after blocking several bills that would increase federal funding for stem cell research, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) abruptly flip-flopped, and now says he advocates such funding.

“It’s not just a matter of faith, it’s a matter of science,” Frist said on the floor of the Senate this morning.

Frist, a heart-lung transplant surgeon who opposes abortion, said modifying Bush’s strict limitations on stem cell research would lead to scientific advances and “bridge the moral and ethical differences” that have made the issue politically charged.

“While human embryonic stem cell research is still at a very early stage, the limitation put into place in 2001 will, over time, slow our ability to bring potential new treatments for certain diseases,” the Tennessee lawmaker said in his speech.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), who is fighting cancer, told the San Francisco Chronicle that Frist’s talk “perhaps the most important speech made on the floor this year, and perhaps the most important speech made in many years. … It has an enormous impact.”

The chief House sponsor of the bill, Representative Michael N. Castle, Republican of Delaware, told the New York Times: “His support is of huge significance.”

Bush has threatened to veto legislation for expanded financial support for stem cell research. A bill to finance more stem cell research has passed the House, but has been stalled in the Senate. Frist’s support could push it closer to passage and set up a confrontation with Bush.


Most mainsteam media, in reporting on Frist’s speech this morning, failed to point out yesterday’s events.

Of the handful of articles I checked reporting on Frist’s speech, only the Boston Globe seemed aware of yesterday’s events.

“As recently as yesterday morning, Frist rebuffed Democrats’ attempts to force an immediate vote on the House-approved bill, saying he would allow such a vote only after reaching an agreement to bring up a range of other measures that are related to stem cell research. That drew a harsh rebuke from Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, who has been consistently lobbying Frist to change his mind and support the bill,” the Globe reported.

The Times noted: “Last week Mr. Castle accused the White House and Mr. Frist of “doing everything in their power to deflect votes away from” the bill. On Thursday night, Mr. Castle said he had written a letter to Mr. Frist just that morning urging him to support the measure.”


What made Frist change his mind so abruptly?

Various newspapers suggest that Frist may have thought twice about the ramifications of a medical doctor coming down, once again, on the side of conservative spin instead of science.

“The move could also have implications for Mr. Frist’s political future. The senator is widely considered a potential candidate for the presidency in 2008, and supporting an expansion of the policy will put him at odds not only with the White House but also with Christian conservatives, whose support he will need in the race for the Republican nomination. But the decision could also help him win support among centrists,” the Times reported.

Frist also received pressure from several leading Republicans, including Specter and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), to bring a stem cell research bill to the Senate floor, in spite of Bush’s stated intent to veto any such legislation.


This article first appeared at Journalists Against Bush’s B.S.

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About David R. Mark

  • Nancy

    I don’t think this will help him; a lot of people don’t like his fiasco ‘pronunciation’ on the Schiavo situation, liberals won’t vote for him anyway because he is Smirk’s lapdog, & this will alienate the religious goonies on the right. Possibly he isn’t going to run after all. Such a move wouldn’t hurt him in his home state, I don’t think, but I can’t understand why he’d do such an about face, unless it was because he just didn’t want to support a democrat-sponsored bill & figured he’d try to get the same thing passed as a republican one for GOP brownie points…? He’ll certainly open himself to Kerry-type attacks on ‘flip-flopping’.

  • billy

    its hard to believe this. are you sure he isnt for cord blood stem cells, which are completely useless and was proposed before? only embryonic work has any interest to scientists. is he for the smokescrren or has he really flipflopped?

  • The quotes in the article sure seem pretty clear on what he’s talking about, Billy.

    And David – nice title. Why not give credit where it’s due? He reconsidered and has taken a more sensible position. Why characterize it negatively as a ‘flip-flop’?

    This is another example of your bias. Frist does what you obviously think is a GOOD thing, but you just can’t resist trying to make it sound negative. That’s hate talking, not objectivity.


  • Nancy

    You’re right, Dave – that’s not a flip-flop, that’s a complete 4-1/2 twist somersault. I’d love to know what’s behind it. Pols don’t do anything without 50 million ulterior motives. Well, we’ll find out soon enough, I suppose. Meanwhile, has anyone launched into him about it?

  • Always willing to give credit to the administration, I’d guess that someone there – like Bush or Cheney – gave Frist a stern talking to about when to fight and when to sign onto the winning side of an issue and look good instead.


  • So far it’s a flip. If he changes his mind again, it’s a flip-flop.

    In any case, good. However it is he came to change his mind, good. Now let’s get the ban lifted.

  • Eric Olsen

    and if he changes his mind yet again after that, then he’s a fish

  • JR

    Dave Nalle: Always willing to give credit to the administration, I’d guess that someone there – like Bush or Cheney – gave Frist a stern talking to about when to fight and when to sign onto the winning side of an issue and look good instead.

    But the administration opposes stem cell funding! You’re saying they talked him into disagreeing with them?

    I have to admit to being a little disappointed if the Feds start funding more research; the current ban helps California’s stem cell initiative. They’re going to need all the head start they can get.

  • I wonder why Frist’s is the “most important speech of the year” when a lot more people – senators even – have said the same thing FOR YEARS.

    Seems stupid.

    Reconsidering in one-day your long-held position appears far-fetched as well. It either means he really didn’t consider his first position very well but fought for it strongly until today – or it’s all politics.

    Which sounds more like common sense to you?

    Opportuniusm has led me and many others here at Blogcritics and beyond to think of Frist as a douche – causing the same pinching effect on all, male or female.

  • >>But the administration opposes stem cell funding! You’re saying they talked him into disagreeing with them?<< The administration 'officially' opposes stem cell research. That doesn't mean that they actually do. As you may have noticed the administration says a lot of stuff which can't be taken terribly seriously for largely political reasons. And I agree with Temple here - even if Frist has changed his position, he's still a first class douche. Dave

  • I definitely think Frist’s switch is evidence that some of the fears that America would become government by, for, and of Conservative fundamentalist Christians were a little exaggerated. The magazine covers have focused on that group, and after election night, when Ralph Reed confidently claimed that 4 million evangelicals who didn’t vote last time would be voting, you can see why.

    But it’s important to remember that coalitions are how you win national elections. Frist, like everyone else in the Senate, knows that the GOP’s victory in the fall was due to a much broader range of voters.

  • Randy P/Tube

    Flip flop, somersault, knick knack paddy whack, whatever. I’d like to see Frist show some balls and challenge the President on this bill. I would like to see some dissension instead of the same old partisan politics.

  • billy

    now the right wingers will hate frist, and the left wingers, well, . . . we’ll still hate frist.

  • Mihos

    Is it really mind boggling that what’s his name the dye job Delay is making the assertion that anyone against life or for the destruction of life is not going to represent the Republican party!
    Isnt this the party that sanctioned bombing
    Iraq with depleted uranium and napalm?
    Somebody help speak my mind cause my head is going to implode.

  • billy

    thats the first comment tom delay has made that i like.

    besides the fact that the pro-death gop (war, death penalty, anti-science, anti-environment, . . .) is out of touch, hi statement is fine with me. let the gop keep the fanatical christian taliban 10% of america, who want to ban stem cell research. the rest can change parties or stay home on election day.

  • To answer Billy’s question, I don’t think Frist is in favor of one of the “alternative” methods that are generally discredited by the scientific community.

    I think he’s in favor of allowing the 400,000 frozen embryos to be used for federally funded research — the legislation authored by Sen. Hutchison of Texas, and similar to what Norm Coleman of Minnesota was suggesting.

    I think it’s a middle ground, in theory. Why did he do it? I don’t know if it was purely for his 2008 presidential chances.

    I think that Arlen Specter said, clearly, that if a bill didn’t go through now, he’d attach it to one of the other spending bills, such as HHS. So any way you slice it, there will be an inevitable battle with Bush — and there may not be enough votes to over-ride a veto. And Frist apparently heard from Orrin Hatch and some of the other moderate Republicans, plus Castle, the House sponsor of the bill. That might have spurred him to reconsider his position.

    This way, Frist comes off as the “man of science,” which may appeal to some swing voters. It’s a no-lose scenario. If it goes through, either with Bush’s approval, or more likely by over-riding a veto, he comes off as an independent Republican leader. And even Bush vetoes it and there aren’t enough votes to over-ride, Bush is the bad guy with the moderate crowd.

    Regarding Dave Nalle’s anti-JABBS comment: I think that it’s absolutely fair to call it a flip-flop. If the Republicans can use the term for real and imaginary changes of opinion by Kerry, Gore, Clinton, etc., than it’s certainly fair to point out that the Senate Majority leader changed his mind in the course of 24 hours. It’s not hateful name-calling — it’s using the popular vernacular of the day.

  • I also agree with JR — Dave Nalle’s theory on what the administration wants is ludicrous.

    After four-plus years, it’s clear that Bush strongly advocates positions held by two groups — the religious right, and the corporate world.

  • RJ

    I don’t particularly like Frist, but didn’t he openly support federally-funded stem-cell research several years ago? He supported Bush’s “ban” in order to see how it would play out. He claims to have been disappointed by the results of Bush’s policy, so now he’s going back to his original stance.

    At least, that’s what I heard…

  • RJ

    By the way, Bush’s policy in NO WAY “banned” stem-cell research. It simply prevented federal tax-dollars to be spent on such research, outside of the stem-cell lines that were allowed.

    So. Stem-cell research has been going on all this time. Just without the US taxpayer footing the bill for it.

  • The article clearly refers to federal funding of stem cell research.

  • By the way, for those who think that it’s mean to use the term flip-flop to describe Frist’s change of heart, I offer you this:

    Frist’s Embryonic Stem Cell Research Flip-Flop Hurts Prez Chances

    by Steven Ertelt
    LifeNews.com Editor
    July 29, 2005

    Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — Last month, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist indicated he did not favor overturning President Bush’s position against expanded embryonic stem cell research funding “at this juncture.” Frist’s flip-flop today could drastically affect his chances of securing the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.

    According to its web site:

    LifeNews.com is an independent news agency specifically devoted to reporting news that affects the pro-life community. With a team of experienced journalists and reporters, LifeNews.com reaches more than 150,000 pro-life advocates each week via its web site, email news reports, and weekday radio program.

  • Not to be outdone was this posting:

    Frist’s Flip-Flop; CWA Severely Disappointed By Sen. Frist’s Decision to Support Funding for Embryonic Stem-Cell Research

    WASHINGTON, July 29 /Christian Wire Service/ — Concerned Women for America (CWA) expressed disappointment in Majority Leader William Frist’s (R-Tennessee) recent decision to go public with his support of embryonic stem-cell research (ESCR). While he had previously claimed to support the President’s policy, today Sen. Frist flip-flopped on federal funding of ESCR. He spoke at length on the Senate floor this morning about his concerns with the current policy that restricts the federal funding of ESCR, a failed science that is structured around the destruction of human life.

  • >>So. Stem-cell research has been going on all this time. Just without the US taxpayer footing the bill for it.
    << Truly an excellent reminder for us, RJ. Dave

  • But not the point we’re arguing, Dave.

  • Isn’t it convenient that when I successfully refute one point, people like Dave are right there to change the conversation?