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CNN's Toobin: Judge's Ruling a 'Major Setback for Stem Cell Research'

On Monday's Situation Room, CNN's Jeffrey Toobin used dire language to describe a federal judge's decision which struck down federal funding for embryonic stem cell research: "The bottom line is this is a major setback for stem cell research and for the Obama administration....it will certainly cut way back on federal funding." Anchor Suzanne Malveaux labeled it a "potential wedge issue." Malveaux led the 5 pm Eastern hour with the "breaking news" about Judge Royce Lamberth's decision, who issued a preliminary injunction against federal funding for the life-destroying research. The anchor brought in Toobin and asked, "What does this mean today?" Toobin immediately gave his "major setback" assessment and described the grounds on which Judge Lamberth gave in his 15-page opinion.

The CNN senior legal analyst, like many in the media, omitted that embryonic stem cell research isn't the only field when it comes to stem cell research. The federal government has actually spent much more on adult stem cell research. According to a July 18, 2008 report by PBS, the NIH "spent $200 million funding non-embryonic stem cell research, and only $38 million on embryonic stem cells." Less than a month ago, on August 2, the Associated Press actually highlighted the successes of adult stem cell research.

Toobin used similarly dire language later in the report: "To be sure, the Obama administration will appeal this ruling to the D.C. Circuit, and it may well be overturned. This case has already been to the appeals court once. But if it stands up, it will certainly cut way back on federal funding for stem cell research." But he also refreshingly noted that "this is yet another battleground, broadly defined, of the abortion struggle in America, because, ultimately, that's what stem cell research and the fight over embryos has really come down to." Malveaux concluded the report with her "wedge issue" label of the controversial research.

The full transcript of Suzanne Malveaux and Jeffrey Toobin's segment from Monday's Situation Room:

MALVEAUX: Federal funding for embryonic stem cell research is now on hold- a U.S. District Court judge here in Washington issuing a preliminary injunction a short while ago. In the ruling, the judge says the research involves the destruction of human embryos, against the will of Congress.

Now, this comes over a year after President Obama signed an executive order repealing Bush-era limits on federal tax dollars to study embryonic stem cells. Many Americans see that research as key to finding cures for spinal cord injuries, cancer, Parkinson's- other diseases.

I want to bring in our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who is on the phone, to help us explain what this means. Now, Jeffrey, in covering President Bush for all of those years, one of the things he was dead-set against was allowing for these federal dollars to be used for embryonic stem cell research. What he proposed was a compromise, saying- look, no more new funding- just allow the funding for 21 existing lines. President Obama reversed that, and now, we have the courts involved in this. What does this mean today?

TOOBIN: Well, the bottom line is this is a major setback for stem cell research and for the Obama administration, because what the judge said was, that in 1996, while President Clinton was in office, Congress passed a law that said there could not be any use of federal money for research where embryos are destroyed. Both President Bush and President Obama worked within the framework because the president, unilaterally, can't overturn a law. By expanding the opportunities for federal funding of research, as President Obama did shortly after he was elected, Judge Royce Lamberth, the judge in Washington, today said he- President Obama- violated that 1996 law. He tried to basically say that that law didn't count any more, and the president can't unilaterally overturn an act of Congress, and that's why the judge suspended the Obama rule today.

MALVEAUX: So, Jeff, what does this mean, in terms of projects that have already been funded? Do they continue, or do they stop, or does this mean that there's just not additional funding for new projects? How does this work today?

TOOBIN: Well, as usual, those questions will mean more work for lawyers, because Judge Lamberth's 15-page opinion does not really deal with all the details of how this will play out in the real world. To be sure, the Obama administration will appeal this ruling to the D.C. Circuit, and it may well be overturned. This case has already been to the appeals court once. But if it stands up, it will certainly cut way back on federal funding for stem cell research, and it is not clear, from Judge Lamberth's order, what happens to those projects that are under way as we speak.

MALVEAUX: And Jeff, just real quick here, what is the next step in the legal process? Where does this go?

TOOBIN: Well, the Obama administration, I assume, will go D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and ask for a stay of this ruling while it's appealed, but the anti-abortion/pro-life forces who were behind this lawsuit, among others, will certainly oppose that, and this is yet another battleground, broadly defined, of the abortion struggle in America, because, ultimately, that's what stem cell research and the fight over embryos has really come down to.

MALVEAUX: Okay, Jeffrey Toobin, thank you so much. Again, another potential wedge issue that may weigh-in in the midterm elections- this decision coming down today, just earlier this afternoon.

-Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.