This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from March 9, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: In recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R-TEXAS: The president would be wiser to pursue a policy to look into more and invest more into adult stem cell research as well as cord blood stem cell research which, I think, would be more productive in the long run and less divisive.
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BRET BAIER, HOST: President Obama [Monday] signed an order allowing federal taxpayer dollars to fund expanded embryonic stem cell research, reversing one of former President Bush's policies — viewed by some in the scientific field as blocking.
However, there is a lot of controversy about what exactly happened under President Bush's administration and what is happening after today's signing of the order.
Let's bring in our panel: Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard; Kirsten Powers, columnist at The New York Post, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.
Charles, first of all, let's straighten out what happened and what happened today.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: What Obama is doing is he's expanding the range of the federal funding of research involving embryonic stem cells. He is allowing the use of embryos that were created in fertility clinics and are not going to be used anymore.
Now, I supported that when I was on the president's council of bioethics and in my writing, which I suppose is why the White House invited me to the signing ceremony.
But I declined for three reasons. One is the president has left open the cloning of human embryos in order to destroy them in experiments. Secondly, he leaves open the creation of human embryos entirely for the purpose of research and experimentation.
And thirdly, he had a memorandum which he signed in which he talks about restoring the scientific integrity in government decisions, which was is an outrageous attack on Bush.
I disagreed with where Bush ended up drawing the line on permissible research, but he gave in August of 2001 the single most morally serious presidential speech on medical ethics ever given and Obama did not, even though I agree on where — I agree more on where he ended up. So I think it was disrespectful. And in pretending, as Obama did, that there's never a conflict between ethics and science, he was wrong.
I suspect that they're not going to be asking me to any more signing ceremonies in the future.
KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK POST: It was a rebuke of George Bush. That was very clear.
And I think what he said was very right, that Obama sort of pretends that there if there is a clash between science and values, he is going to err on the side of science, as if we don't ever consider maybe ethics or, you know, our values on the other side, and that that isn't a lesson that we should value.
He also talks about putting science before politics, where this actually seems to be a very political decision from where I'm sitting. It's something that the base is very excited about.
And I think that the reality is the debate has moved — science has moved a lot further than the debate, and we know more than we knew when it started. For example, adult stem cells, we can do a lot more with them than we could when this debate started. There is a lot of research being done with the placenta.
So this is, really, sort of, to me, a political move to satisfy people who really wanted this to happen, and blame George Bush, essentially, for people who are paralyzed or suffering from Alzheimer's.
FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Absolutely. It was a very political decision. President Obama always tries to make his decisions sound as if he is rising above mere politics that the rest of here are chatting about and embracing something on a higher plane. In this case, sound science was what he said dictated this.
But, as Charles pointed out, when you got to the serious moral choice here about cloning, he ducked it and said Congress will have to act.
To be really serious about dealing with this issue, then he ought to deal with that, because that's the big issue now. The big issue is not embryonic stem cell research, though I oppose it, because where has the progress been made?
And I think Charles knows more about this than I do and he can correct me if I'm wrong, and I think Kirsten does too, that the great progress that's been made in recent years has been in non-embryonic stem cell research, and it hasn't been because of the inability to get embryonic stem cells. It's just that that's been a more fruitful area where science has gone.
I want to point out one other thing, because President Obama does this all the time and Charles referred to it. It's the straw man he uses.
He is always attacking those who would have government do nothing, you know, to help the economy. The straw man here is the one where he says he is standing firmly against those who would falsify or hide or somehow distort science or something like that. Nobody was doing that.
BAIER: Charles, what about this premise that the tough decisions he is really leaving to Congress here?
KRAUTHAMMER: Well, he will. And I think what he is asking Congress to do is to decide whether it's going to allow all kinds of experimentation on human embryos, which would be a radical step.
There was a law in Congress passed the mid-'90s which outlawed actual experimentation on the embryo with federal funds. So that is going to be open now and Obama in not taking a stance is taking a stance.
The man who invented embryonic stem cells, a scientist by the name of Thompson, has said recently that if you haven't had any moral qualms about it, you haven't thought about it enough. And it looks as if Obama hasn't thought about it a lot.
BAIER: So is President Obama taking advantage of the economic crisis to push through his big spending domestic agenda?
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WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS: The house is on fire. Which room are you going to put out first? Where are you going to call the fire department and ask them to put all of it out?
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BAIER: The panel is fired up to tackle this one when we return.
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SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: Now is the time, given the crisis. But I think from our administration's perspective, this is a propitious time. If we approach it as an opportunity to make these investments through our stimulus packages, we can actually begin to demonstrate our willingness to confront this.
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BAIER: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton there talking about pushing energy policies in this current crisis — "never waste a crisis," paraphrasing the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.
What about President Obama using this crisis to push forward different policies? We're back with the panel.
Kirsten, a fair comparison to 9/11, how liberals used to call President Bush using 9/11?
POWERS: I think it's a fair comparison in that people were frightened after 9/11 and people are frightened right now because of the economy.
I tend to be of the mind that he was always going to do this as long as he had this much of a majority in Congress, that it was always his intention to come in and sort of reshape government in a liberal way. And that was why liberals loved him so much, was because he was the Reagan of the left and he was going to come in and do it.
Now, is it a little easier for him to do it now? Sure, but he still could have done it. And I think the public seems to be with him still just because they like him and they, you know, and they're trusting him. We'll see how long they stay with him.
But I think he would probably be doing it even without the crisis.
BARNES: I think his trust is being eroded because of this.
It is dishonest and false for him to say we cannot revive the economy and create jobs unless we deal with health care and its cause, unless we create all this energy research in jobs and everything, and cap and trade to hold down global warming, supposedly, and reform education.
Some of those things might be nice, but they are not things that are going to promote the economy at all. Rather, in some cases, that agenda actually will impede an economic recovery.
He wants to raise taxes on individuals, the individuals who invest, and on capital itself. He wants to raise energy costs through cap and trade, which will obviously affect everyone, and businesses, too.
And so for him to say "I have to do all these things or we won't have an economic recovery" is wrong, because some of those things will actually hurt an economic recovery.
KRAUTHAMMER: I think, in fact, he is consciously exploiting the crisis by pretending that, as he did in his speech to Congress, that the cause of our difficulties is mismanagement in education, health and energy. It's not. The cause of our difficulties in a crises in banking and credit and that's the issue of our time.
His agenda is health, energy, and education and it's an opportunity for him.
But unlike Bush — I mean, Bush never had an original agenda of wiretapping Americans, of detention without trial or preemptive war. Those are the policies which occurred after 9/11 in a sincere and critically important examination of what would keep us safe.
That's why he instituted those policies, and, in fact, they kept us safe. But it was not an agenda that he was waiting for an excuse to enact.
Obama, on the other hand, will tell you that he campaigned on health care reform, energy, and education, and he is actually understanding that because we are at a crisis, it allows him to experiment and to push legislation in a way that would not have occurred in quieter times.
BAIER: Is it possible that they are overwhelming Congress with all these pushes they are making, Kirsten? Do you think they're doing too much at once and it could backfire on them?
POWERS: It could. But, like I said, they have an opportunity here and they're going to take it. You get one opportunity.
But I would just say on the George Bush stuff, I see it a little differently. I think that they did have an agenda to do something in Iraq. I mean, we know that from the people he had around them, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle. These are people who were urging President Clinton to overthrow Saddam.
So I'm not even saying it is nefarious. I'm just saying it was their agenda, and post 9-11 they were able to something that, let's face it, without 9/11 simply would not have happened. There is no way they would have gotten support for it.
And in terms of the things that Charles alluded to, a lot of that was just expanded government power, which also was something that they wanted, that Cheney certainly wanted. And I think that they saw an opportunity there to get things that they thought were going to make the country stronger.
I think their instincts were to do something good, but they used that crisis.
KRAUTHAMMER: But the difference here is means and ends. The expansion of government power was not an end for George Bush. It was a means of defending us after 9/11, and he was right, because he kept us safe.
With Obama, his ends have always been explicitly stated that before in these areas of reforming our society, and he is exploiting a crisis in order to get it all done.
BAIER: Last word, Fred.
BARNES: The analogy, whether it works or not between 9/11 and what Obama is doing now really doesn't make a difference, because what he is doing now, an argument he is making now, is simply specious.
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