Despite his break with President Bush on stem cell research, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., still received a warm reception at the White House Friday. But it was also clear after some one-on-one time with Bush, the president has not changed his mind.
The White House reaffirmed Bush's promise to veto any expansion of his 2001 order limiting research on embryonic stem cells to existing lines. In May, the president said, "I made it very clear to the Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers' money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life is — I'm against that."
Bush is resisting the pressure within his own party to change his stance.
"The president is not worried about re-election,” says former Sen. John Breaux, R-La. "He's, I think, being true to his base within the Republican Party, but that base, I think, is changing."
Frist now joins a growing number of influential anti-abortion Republicans in both houses of Congress who support expanding stem cell research. Though supporters are still in the minority in the Republican Party, it's a growing minority.
But as the science improves and high-profile Republicans like Nancy Reagan push for more federal research money, Republicans eyeing the White House by 2008 may feel comfortable challenging their base.
"The last few years they've been siding more with the religious, cultural conservatives," says political analyst Charles Cook. "But now they're starting to say, 'Wait a minute, maybe there's more people in our party on the other side.'"
Of more immediate concern to the White House is whether an expansion of research will pass this year. Some observers think there are at least 60 votes in the Senate, but nowhere near enough Republican support in the House to override a presidential veto.