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Thursday, July 20, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Reichert has heart-to-heart talk with women on staff before stem-cell vote

Seattle Times Washington bureau

WASHINGTON — At 5:50 p.m. Wednesday, about 45 minutes before his first vote on whether to override a presidential veto, Rep. Dave Reichert called the women on his staff into his office.

He wanted to know how they felt about embryonic stem-cell research, and whether he should vote to overturn President Bush's veto of legislation that would expand federal funding for such scientific work.

"I think women, potential mothers, have a different perspective from men," said Reichert, R-Wash. "I can't begin to imagine how they feel. I wanted to hear from them."

Reichert supported Bush's strict limits on stem-cell research during his first congressional race in 2004 and voted against expanded federal funding in May 2005. But he indicated two months ago that he was torn over the issue.

Darcy Burner, his Democratic challenger in this fall's election, has said Reichert's position on stem-cell research is a sign that he's too conservative and out of touch with his Eastside district.

The meeting with Reichert's female staffers was emotional, according to Reichert and one participant. "There were teary eyes, including mine," Reichert said, adding that, to his surprise, "It was unanimous, really, among the women."

They all favored expanding the research.

Reichert then reversed his previous position and voted to override the president's veto. However, the House fell short of the total needed when it voted 235-193 Wednesday night to override the president's veto. Reichert joined all of the state delegation's Democrats in voting for the override; the delegation's other Republicans, Richard "Doc" Hastings and Cathy McMorris voted no.

Afterward, Burner said that Reichert changed his vote "when he realized he was facing the fight of his life."

"This issue really resonates with voters here," she added.

Reichert wasn't the only Republican who grasped the intensity of the issue and its potential impact on the fall elections.

Senate candidate Mike McGavick, who has tried to take a centrist view on abortion, said he, too, would have voted for expanding stem-cell research funding. He is challenging Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who consistently has supported such funding.

"From time to time, federal regulations should be re-examined to keep up with American innovation," McGavick said.

Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat, also voted for stem-cell research this week.

On Monday, she made an emotional speech to the Senate, citing her father's crippling bout with multiple sclerosis.

Her father used a wheelchair most of her life. "I can only imagine how our lives might have been different if there had been a cure for MS," she said.

Alicia Mundy: 202-662-7457 or amundy@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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