Frist leaves Se­nate of­fice to bi­par­ti­san wishes; urges oth­ers to ser­vice

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Amy Fa­gan

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.


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