Republicans Balk at Obama’s Stem Cell Decision

Posted March 9, 2009 at 2:22pm

Updated: 7:44 p.m.

Facing pressure from social conservatives who want cultural issues to remain a central plank of the GOP platform, House and Senate Republicans attacked President Barack Obama on Monday for lifting Bush-era restraints on federal funding for stem cell research projects.

Despite deep divisions within their own party, GOP leaders quickly took the Obama administration to task for reversing Bush’s executive order.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) accused Obama of acting in a purposefully divisive manner and breaking his pledge to try to govern from the middle.

“This decision runs counter to President Obama’s promise to be a president for all Americans. For a third time in his young presidency, the president has rolled back important protections for innocent life, further dividing our nation at a time when we need greater unity to tackle the challenges before us,— Boehner said Monday.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — whose Conference is particularly split over the issue — called the executive order a “troubling shift— in policy.

“The administration’s announcement on embryonic stem cell research represents a troubling shift in U.S. policy. With this announcement, the government is, for the first time, incentivizing the creation and destruction of human embryos at the expense of the U.S. taxpayer,— McConnell said.

Obama’s stem cell decision comes as Republicans find themselves under increasing pressure from conservative activists. Since November, GOP leaders, particularly in the Senate, have been pressing their colleagues to chart a new course — one that largely avoids the culture-war issues such as abortion and gay marriage and favors more traditional conservative topics such as the size of government and federal spending.

Social conservatives aren’t keeping quiet, however. For instance, when National Republican Committee Chairman Michael Steele criticized radio host Rush Limbaugh — who has long been at the center of partisan fights over social issues — as an “entertainer— who can be “incendiary,— social conservatives pounced. They went after Steele, a moderate Republican, and pressed him to apologize.

Similarly, late last week the Family Research Council “temporarily— pulled out of weekly Values Action Team meetings chaired by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.). Although Brownback is arguably the strongest anti-abortion Senator, the FRC pulled out of the meetings after he issued a statement supporting Obama’s nomination of Kansas’ Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who favors abortion rights, for secretary of Health and Human Services.

FRC Senior Vice President Tom McClusky told the Christian Broadcasting Network, which first reported the group’s decision, that “it was a very tough decision except the Family Research Council thought that while we try to fight against this Sebelius nomination and to bring her record to light that it would be better if we took a temporary leave of absence from the Values Action Team.—

“We will re-evaluate after the Sebelius nomination if we should go forward with the Values Action Team. It’s just that right now we feel somewhat compromised in trying to use that as a vehicle to get our message across,— he added.

Although a spokesman for Brownback did not return a request for comment, a senior GOP aide said the move was surprising given his long-standing position on abortion.

“Brownback is consistently their best ally in Congress regardless of the issue,— the Senate GOP aide said.