Frist leaves Senate office to bipartisan wishes; urges others to service
MajorityLeaderBillFristofficially ended his 12-year Senate tenure on Dec. 7 with a ceremonial speech to a crowded chamber weeks before Democrats officially take control.
“I hope that my service, that the example of someone who had never servedbefore,spenthislifepursuing anotherprofession,cominghereand rising from 100 in seniority to majority leader [. . .] will inspire others to seek office,” Mr. Frist said.
Vice President Dick Cheney presided over the chamber, filled with more than 40 Republicans and nearly 30 Democratic colleagues. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, also attended.
IncomingSenateMajorityLeader Harry Reid of Nevada urged his fellowDemocratstoattendtheaddress.
In his own speech afterward, Mr. Reid said that though he and Mr. Fristhavehadtheir“upsanddowns” he never doubted the majority leader’s character. “You’re a good man,” he said, before the two embraced awkwardly.
The Tennessee Republican, 54, stuck to his self-imposed 12-year term limit and recently abandoned his well-publicized White House aspirations.
WhenhewaselectedtotheSenate in 1994, the heart and lung surgeon had never held public office. He is known for peppering stories and speeches with medical references.
Mr. Frist’s rise in the chamber began when he was elected in 2000 to lead the National Republican Senatorial Committee and helped his party win the majority two years later, although the elections last monthhandedRepublicansacrush- ingsix-seatlossandreturnedcontrol to Democrats.
Mr.Fristrosetomajorityleaderby seizingakeyopportunityinlate2002 when Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, made remarksthatwereinterpretedasracist. Mr.Lott,enmeshedinpoliticalscandal, was forced to give up his leadership — a position that was seized by Mr.Frist.Inhisbook“HerdingCats,” Mr. Lott said he “considered Frist’s power grab a personal betrayal.”
Mr. Frist has made his own misstepsasmajorityleader.Lastyear,he was criticized for essentially issuing a diagnosis of Terry Schiavo — a brain-damaged Florida woman at the center of a right to die battle — bystudyinghermedicalrecordsand a video recording. He and other Republicans trying to stop the removal of Mrs. Schiavo’s feeding tube questioned whether she was in a persistent vegetative state, as her physicians determined.
Mr. Frist generally has been a staunch ally of President Bush and helped secure passage of Mr. Bush’s tax cuts.
Conservatives criticized his inability to break Democratic filibusters of Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees, but he managed to gain confirmation for most of the judges, includingtwoconservativeSupreme Court justices.
“He got it done,” said fellow Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander, who argued that those judicial confirmations, the Medicare prescriptiondrugprogramanda$15billioninitiativetofightAIDSworldwide would not have been accomplished without Mr. Frist.
Sen. Mike DeWine, an Ohio Republican who lost re-election last month, said the defeat “had nothing to do with Bill Frist.”
“I think he has been a good leader,” Mr. DeWine said, especially praising Mr. Frist’s behind-thescenes work to fight AIDS.