MSNBC: Tim, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee is breaking with President George W. Bush and supporting legislation to remove some of the administration’s limitations on embryonic stem cell research. Is this a big enough move to make that legislation reality?
Tim Russert: He’ll bring several Republicans with him, but there probably won’t be enough votes in either house to override a presidential veto, so it probably will not become law. But it also has huge ramifications, I think for the 2008 presidential race.
Senator Frist had been courting Christian conservatives. Many will be very unhappy with his position and he’ll be roundly criticized in some circles.
MSNBC: What Senator Frist is supporting is using some of the stem cells that might otherwise be totally discarded, which, in and of itself is another moral question.
Russert: We have many fertilization clinics now, where when couples are successful or decide to stop trying to become pregnant, and the embryos are there. Some are used for so-called “Snowflake babies” – other couples use them to try to conceive – but some are discarded. And now there are some conservatives, led by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT, who are saying, “Rather than throw them away, let’s use them for research.”
Sen. Frist has joined that camp.
It’s going to be a profound debate and this is a very important step in it and one which shows a deep divide within the Republican Party.
MSNBC: With not enough votes being available to override the veto anyway, can Sen. Frist make the case to his more conservative base that, since there isn’t any chance the legislation would succeed anyway, it lets him appeal to a more moderate group in a presidential race.
Russert: They don’t like that line of thinking. They believe that you should be true to principal and pure on the issue. He’ll receive a lot of criticism in conservative Christian circles.
MSNBC: Don’t we seem to be seeing a lot of names associated with potential presidential races moving toward a more central position these days?
Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, wrote a letter in 2000 advocating a position very similar to George W. Bush’s. Now Sen. McCain has changed, or evolved – however you want to describe it.
Many Republicans are beginning to hear from their constituents on this because when there is a spinal cord injury or Parkinsons or things of that nature, it’s not a Republican or Democratic or liberal or conservative disease. People are desperate – hopeful – for any kind of cure.
My reporting tells me you’ll continue to see more and more support for this kind of research.
MSNBC: Shifting gears here – there’s a lot of concern about the current situation with foam hitting and damaging the space shuttle. As a consequence, hasn’t that translated to concern about the future of U.S. space program?
Russert: It’s just extraordinary. You have seven people in that spaceship. When you see them liftoff, you hold you heart. When you see them coming back it’s the same.
That foam shield that we talk about hitting the shuttle in the Columbia disaster, it happened 82 seconds into the flight. This incident with Discovery was two minutes into the flight. So it looks like a difference of some 38 seconds.
Colonel Eileen Collins, the commander of the shuttle, has two kids – Bridget, 9 and Luke, 4. We’re all just hoping and praying that it all turns out right.
We’re going to discuss those concerns, Sunday, on Meet the Press.
We’ll have a very unique program – a first in the 58 year history of Meet the Press.
In the studio we’ll talk to the head of NASA, Michael Griffin. Then we’re going to talk to the astronauts in space. Colonel Eileen Collins and her crew will be on Meet the Press, talking to us about what it’s like up there – what concerns, what hopes, what fears they have. We’ve never done anything like this before and we hope it works.
In addition, in our political roundtable, we’ll talk about stem cell research, the CIA leak, the suggestion of a troop withdrawal and a whole lot more.
All, Sunday on Meet the Press.