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The White House lobbied last week to kill a Senate Republican effort to effectively stop commercial human cloning in the United States, Senate sources have told Human Events.
Although President Bush has endorsed a complete ban on human cloning sponsored by senators Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., and Mary Landrieu, D.-La., White House lobbyists contacted Republican senators June 18 to ask them to vote that morning for cloture (a closing of debate to bring a legislative question to a vote) on the Senate’s terrorism insurance bill (S 2600), thus preventing an up-or-down vote on a human cloning amendment that Brownback wanted to attach to the bill. His amendment would have banned the patenting of human embryos – effectively destroying any economic incentive for the experimental cloning of human beings.
The Senate did vote for cloture – 65 to 31 – so Brownback was prevented from trying to attach his amendment.
The terrorism insurance bill – which passed later that day, 84 to 14 – would require the government to cover almost all insurance losses in excess of $10 billion due to terrorist activity.
Cloning proponent Sen. Ted Kennedy, D.-Mass., said on the Senate floor that Brownback’s amendment would have achieved Brownback’s “long-held goal of banning this medical research entirely” by removing the economic incentives for it.
White House spokeswoman Mercy Viana, asked to explain why White House lobbyists worked against letting Brownback’s amendment come to a vote, said it was “imperative for the Senate to move on this [insurance] bill, it was a priority for the president, it was a priority for America’s economic security.”
“We are working closely with the senators, and we are not going to get into the specific conversations that they [the White House lobbyists and the senators] had,” Viana said.
She stressed that the president still supports Brownback’s bill to completely ban human cloning.
“It’s clear that the president is committed to banning human cloning,” she said, “and he supports Sen. Brownback in his efforts to ban human cloning.”
Many Senate staffers and conservative activists, nonetheless, were dismayed that the White House killed what they viewed as a rare opportunity for a Senate vote on human cloning – an opportunity that emerged only when anti-cloning forces jumped on a rare parliamentary blunder by pro-cloning senators.
The House of Representatives last summer passed a bill to ban completely human cloning by a 100-vote majority. Two months ago, President Bush held a special event at the White House to formally endorse Brownback’s Senate version of the bill. In his speech that day, the president made a powerful argument against the procedure and said that any law that did anything less than ban all human cloning would be “unethical.”
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D.-S.D., however, opposes a complete ban on human cloning. Ever since the House acted last summer, he has repeatedly reneged on a series of promises to have the Senate take up such a bill. When Daschle finally offered a vote on the bill in early June, it was only under a parliamentary arrangement designed to make it fail.
Daschle wanted to give political cover to pro-cloning senators – mostly Democrats – who intended to vote against Brownback’s bill by giving them the opportunity at the same time to support a cloning bill sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D.-Mass., and Diane Feinstein, D.-Calif. The Kennedy-Feinstein bill would allow human cloning for scientific experimentation as long as the cloned embryos are killed and not implanted in a woman’s uterus.
As a result of Daschle’s refusal to allow a clean vote on his bill, Brownback has been forced to resort to guerrilla parliamentary tactics, seeking an opportunity to insert anti-cloning provisions into other legislation. On June 13, he got an unexpected chance, the likes of which may not come again as long as Democrats control the U.S. Senate.
During the debate on Brownback’s amendment to the insurance bill that would ban the patenting of human embryos, Sen. Arlen Specter, R.-Pa., a strong supporter of experimental human cloning, was assigned to man the floor for the pro-cloning side. But when Specter was forced to leave the floor for 30 seconds to take a telephone call, cloning opponent Sen. John Ensign, R.-Nev., seized the unusual opportunity of an open floor to effectively lock in Brownback’s amendment as the pending business. Because no one was present to object, Ensign’s maneuver made a vote on cloning almost inevitable.
This left Daschle with only one option to prevent that vote from happening. He called for a cloture vote on the terror insurance bill, which would stop debate and kill any non-relevant amendments.
The cloture vote, which requires a 60-vote majority, was scheduled for five days later. The White House lobbyists waited until the morning of the vote before getting involved to support cloture.
“The White House hung the pro-life community out to dry,” said one Senate source familiar with the incident.
Separate sources claimed that White House lobbyists deceived some Republican senators into voting, in effect, to kill Brownback’s amendment, incorrectly informing them just before the cloture roll call that pro-life groups – including the Family Research Council – would not be scoring that procedural vote in their annual ranking of Congress.
In fact, the Family Research Council had notified 49 senators of their intention to score the cloture vote, a spokesman told Human Events. But the president’s lobbyists reportedly told senators that this had changed.
For whatever reason, a decisive number of senators did appear to flip on the vote at the last moment.
Three senators who had explicitly indicated their support for Brownback’s amendment the day before – James Inhofe, R.-Okla., George Allen, R.-Va., and Pete Fitzgerald, R.-Ill. – ended up voting for cloture, which killed the amendment.
A spokesman for the staunchly pro-life Inhofe, a long-time conservative champion, said the senator voted for cloture because he thought it was important to have a clean anti-terrorism insurance bill. Inhofe, a co-sponsor of Brownback’s complete ban on human cloning, believes there will be another opportunity in this Senate to vote on Brownback’s bill, the spokesman said.
A spokeswoman for Sen. George Allen, R.-Va., confirmed that the White House had asked for a “yes” vote. Allen, she said, feared that if the cloture vote failed, “the terrorism insurance legislation would have been set aside” by Daschle.
A spokesman for Fitzgerald did not return calls for comment.
According to an eyewitness, Fitzgerald and three other Republican senators – Pete Domenici, R.-N.M., Bob Bennett, R.-Utah, and Mike Crapo, R.-Idaho – actually voted with Brownback at first, then reversed their votes before the voting period was up. Domenici declined to talk to Human Events about his reversal. Spokesmen for Bennett and Crapo did not return calls.
If these six senators had voted with Brownback against cloture, cloture would have fallen short with only 59 votes. As a result, nothing could have stopped a vote on Brownback’s amendment to prohibit the patenting of human embryos.
Family Research Council President Ken Connor was sharply critical of the White House moves in supporting cloture.
“The vote on the Brownback amendment would likely have been the most significant pro-life vote in this session of Congress,” Connor said in a written statement. “The White House had an opportunity to lead on an issue of critical importance to pro-family/pro-life groups, but instead chose to dissemble.”
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