February 13, 2006
GOP Cloning Rupture
WASHINGTON -- Defection from anti-cloning ranks by Sen. Jim Talent,
until now a rising star in the conservative movement, reflects deep
divisions in the Republican Party created by the stem cell research
issue. When Talent went on the Senate floor Friday to take his name
off a bill to ban human cloning, he showed how those divisions imperil
his re-election to a second term in Missouri this year.
been a longtime co-sponsor of Sen. Sam Brownback's anti-cloning
bill. But Missouri business interests who finance the Republican
Party are backing a state constitutional amendment that explicitly
allows human cloning to enable scientific experiments on embryonic
stem cells. Talent succumbed to pressure to step away from Brownback,
basing this on the premise that there are new scientific developments.
His risk is that his social conservative constituency will regard
this as a betrayal and in turn abandon Talent at the polls.
has been a passionate battleground, beginning with the Civil War
and more recently as a weathervane for national elections. The
stem cell struggle there reflects nationwide tension between the
country club and religious conservatives that has been kept under
control in the largely dormant abortion debate. But Democrats
want to use stem cell research as a wedge issue in the way Republicans
used gay marriage. Talent had a political choice between the country
club and his old right-wing constituency, and he picked the country
may have inadvertently hurried Talent's choice. David Freddoso,
my reporter, learned early last week that Talent was "considering"
getting off the bill co-sponsored by Brownback and Democratic
Sen. Mary Landrieu. Talent's staff was unresponsive to our questions,
talking vaguely about "changing science." When I tried
to talk to the senator starting last Wednesday, he did not call
me back until after his 30-minute Senate speech Friday abandoning
the Brownback-Landrieu bill.
under political duress. State Auditor Claire McCaskill, his formidable
Democratic opponent for the Senate, on Jan. 24 opened fire on
Talent for wanting to "criminalize" attempted research
for "life-saving cures." With Talent a narrow loser
for governor in 2000 and narrow winner for senator in 2002, current
polls show him about even against McCaskill. Talent was not ready
to respond Feb. 4 when he addressed a Missouri Republican conference
in Kansas City and did not mention stem cells.
In his Senate
speech Friday, Talent reaffirmed opposition to human cloning and
relied heavily on Dr. Bill Hurlbut's experiment attempting to
produce stem cells without creating a human embryo. Talent conceded
to me that Brownback-Landrieu did not necessarily rule out Hurlbut's
approach but added that the bill could impede "a whole new
world" of procedures.
When I told
Brownback Wednesday that Talent might get off his bill, that was
the first he had heard of it. Republican State Rep. Jim Lembke,
leading the campaign against the cloning constitutional amendment,
has been unable to speak with Talent since the middle of last
year. Talent thus gave the impression he is switching sides. "If
you mess with your base in a close race," Lembke told this
column, "that probably is going to have negative consequences."
still is refusing to take a stand on the cloning amendment, which
is supported not only by Democrat McCaskill but also big-time
Missouri Republicans: former Sen. John Danforth, Gov. Matt Blunt
and Bush fund-raiser Sam Fox (who has personally contributed more
than $1 million to Republicans).
sources say the billion-dollar endowed Stowers Institute in Kansas
City, headed by Republican contributors, has threatened to move
to Los Angeles if the constitutional amendment is not passed.
Such a proposal is the law in California, enabling patent holders
for certain research techniques and products to profit heavily.
me he could not take a position on the amendment because it is
not on the ballot, is tied up in court and is not in its final
form. In fact, it is sure to be on the ballot, faces no serious
legal impediment and clearly permits human cloning in scientific
research. Jim Talent, having stationed himself in the middle of
the road on a passion-provoking issue, risks being run over.
2006 Creators Syndicate