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.