During the June 20 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, White House correspondent Brett Baier reported that President Bush "pointed out" during a press conference "that he is the first" president "to provide funds for embryonic stem cell research." Later in the program, Washington Post columnist and Special Report "All Star" panel member Charles Krauthammer called Bush "the first president who actually funded embryonic stem-cell research" and asserted that during President Bill Clinton's tenure "there was a ban" on federal funding. Also, two Associated Press articles, one on June 20 and one on June 21, reported, "There were no federal funds available for the work until Bush announced on Aug. 9, 2001, that his administration would spend tax money for research on lines of cells that already were in existence." In fact, a Clinton administration proposal to fund embryonic stem cell research was blocked by a Republican Congress, and revised guidelines for such funding issued under Clinton were suspended by Bush in favor of stricter rules.
In explaining his June 20 veto of a bill that would have eased restrictions for stem cell research funding, Bush claimed he was the "first president to make federal funds available for embryonic stem cell research":
In 2001, I announced a policy to advance stem cell research in a way that is ambitious, ethical, and effective. I became the first president to make federal funds available for embryonic stem cell research -- and my policy did this in ways that would not encourage the destruction of embryos.
As Media Matters for America has noted (here and here), after Congress passed a bill in 1993 that included a provision allowing federal funding of human embryo research, the Clinton administration convened a panel that proposed federal funding for obtaining stem cells, which would entail the destruction of spare embryos from fertility clinics. Contrary to Krauthammer's suggestion, it was the Republican-controlled Congress, not Clinton, that in 1995 and subsequent years included a ban on the use of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research in appropriations bills, which derailed the Clinton proposals. After researchers achieved the isolation of embryonic stem cells in November 1998, the Clinton administration drafted revised guidelines to fund embryonic stem cell research, but those rules had yet to take effect when Clinton left office. Clinton's rules were suspended by the Bush administration in favor of its own rules.
Bush's stricter rules limit funding only for embryonic stem cell lines already in existence at the time he issued his policy in a August 9, 2001, nationally televised speech. As The Washington Post reported on August 10, 2001, "the new policy will replace guidelines issued by the National Institutes of Health a year ago under the Clinton administration that would have allowed the first federal subsidies of human embryo cell research."
From the June 20 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
BAIER: Instead, the president issued an executive order promoting research on, but not funding for what are called pluripotent stem-cells that like human embryonic stem-cells hold the potential of regenerating into different types of cells and tissues in the body that can be used to fight disease, but these cells would not endanger human life. The President cited medical research breakthroughs on cells taken from umbilical cord blood and amniotic fluid, as well as new research on adult stem cells.
BUSH: [video clip] And our conscious calls us to pursue the possibilities of science in a manner that respects human dignity and upholds our moral values.
BAIER: The president pointed out that he is the first president to provide funds for embryonic stem-cell research, making $130 million available for research on stem cell lines from embryos that had already been destroyed before he came to office, and has since spent more than $3 billion funding research on different forms of stem cells. Top Democrats like Presidential candidate [Sen.] Hillary Clinton [D-NY] were quick to denounce the President's veto.
CLINTON: [video clip] This is just one example of how the president puts ideology before science; politics before the needs of our families. Just one more example of how out of touch with reality he and his party have become.
HUME: All right now lets not go in -- go there. Charles, let me let you have a crack at this since this is an issue you care about.
KRAUTHAMMER: Look the president is serious about the moral objection he has, and that is that you don't destroy human embryos to produce stem cells. He had not banned all research on it or even federal assistance; he banned only the kind that actively destroys embryos. He allowed all the existing lines that had existed before his policy was announced in April of 2001. So there is a research supported by the federal government. Look, I happen to disagree with the President. I would have allowed what the bill in the House and the Senate would have wanted, which was the use of discarded embryos from fertility clinics. However, I respect the president's position, unlike the Democrats who attack it as if it's -- totally cynical. Mrs. Clinton said today that the -- when I am president, I will lift the ban on stem-cell research -- as you indicated.
There is no ban, in fact under her husband, there was a ban. But Bush is the first president who actually funded embryonic stem cell research, but he said only of a type which is morally defensible.
From a June 20 Associated Press article headlined "Bush vetoes embryonic stem cell bill, urges research on other stem cell lines":
Most of the Democratic candidates have urged Bush to expand the research.
Scientists were first able to conduct research with embryonic stem cells in 1998, according to the National Institutes of Health. There were no federal funds available for the work until Bush announced on Aug. 9, 2001, that his administration would spend tax money for research on lines of cells that already were in existence.
Currently, states and private organizations are permitted to fund embryonic stem cell research, but federal support is limited to cells that existed as of Aug. 9, 2001. The latest bill was aimed at lifting that restriction.
Those paragraphs were repeated in a June 21 Associated Press article headlined "More Measures on Stem Cells Expected."