Dr. Frist And Mr. Hyde: The Transformation Of A Senate Leader

It’s been a long, winding, morally manipulative journey these past few years for Senate leader Bill Frist (R-TN). Originally hailed as a moderate and conciliatory antidote to former leader Trent Lott (R-MS), Frist has morphed steadily into a divisive presidential hopeful bent on securing support from the GOP’s radical right-wing base. The transformation has not escaped the notice of Frist’s colleagues, some of whom wonder aloud whether Frist’s “presidential aspirations are getting in the way of his Senate leadership position.” Below, a trip down memory lane…

Part 1: The “conciliatory” Doctor Frist

12/16/02: Frist first mentioned as candidate to be Lott’s replacement, seen as “moderate voice”: “Sen. Bill Frist (Tenn.), who helped engineer the Republican takeover of the Senate in the November elections and enjoys close relations with the White House, has some strong backers among Republicans who want a fresh face and moderate voice in the job to help the party recover from damage flowing out of racially charged remarks by Lott 11 days ago.” [WP]

12/21/02: Frist becomes frontrunner, praised as “compassionate” party savior: “Frist fits neatly into the melodramatic script of Trent Lott’s fall from power, cast as the new majority leader called on to rescue the party in a moment of peril. ‘He really shows the true compassionate conservatism,’ says Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX).” [WP]


12/24/02: Frist inducted as House leader, dedicates self to “healing wounds”: “In his acceptance speech yesterday, Mr. Frist told his GOP colleagues, ‘We must dedicate ourselves to healing those wounds of division that have been reopened so prominently in the past few weeks.’…In contrast [to Trent Lott], Bill Frist comes to the leadership with a reputation as one who knows how to bring people together. It is a skill sorely needed in both the Republican caucus and the Senate as a whole.” [WP]

3/13/03: Frist lauded as “inclusive” leader, “deferential” to peers: “Many Republican senators spoke approvingly of what they described as a more inclusive leadership style than they had seen from a Republican leader. Even as the leader steers the Senate’s agenda rightward, moderate Republican senators say he meets far more often with them, soliciting their views and making them feel valued, than did Mr. Lott… Other senators say he is unusually deferential to colleagues, frequently insisting that they take the microphone at news conferences.” [NYT]

Part 2: The combustible Mr. Hyde

3/19/04: Frist crafts party platform pandering to social conservatives: “Republicans approved a platform yesterday that puts the party firmly on the record against legalized abortion, gay marriage and other forms of legal recognition for same-sex couples, reflecting the political clout of social conservatives … Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader and chairman of the Republican platform committee, hailed the platform, titled, ‘A Safer World, A More Hopeful America,’ as a tribute to Mr. Bush when he presented it to the convention yesterday.” [NYT]

3/19/04: “Doctor” Frist diagnosis Terri Schiavo from House floor, argues for divisive Senate interference: “Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a renowned heart surgeon before becoming Senate majority leader, went to the floor late Thursday night for the second time in 12 hours to argue that Florida doctors had erred in saying Terri Schiavo is in a ‘persistent vegetative state.’


“His comments raised eyebrows in medical and political circles alike. It is not every day that a high-profile physician relies on family videotapes to challenge the diagnosis of doctors who examined a severely brain-damaged patient in person.” [WP]

4/15/05: Frist says he’ll push for “nuclear option”: “Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is all but certain to press for a rule change that would ban filibusters of judicial nominations in the next few weeks, despite misgivings by some of his fellow Republicans and a possible Democratic backlash that could paralyze the chamber, close associates said yesterday.” [WP]

4/15/05: Frist joins religious right telecast questioning faith of Democrats who oppose Bush judicial nominees: “As the Senate heads toward a showdown over the rules governing judicial confirmations, Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, has agreed to join a handful of prominent Christian conservatives in a telecast portraying Democrats as ‘against people of faith’ for blocking President Bush’s nominees.” [NYT]

4/27/05: Frist rejects compromise on judicial nominees: “[Frist] rejected a Democratic offer to resolve an impasse over judicial nominees yesterday, as members of both parties said they are under strong pressure from interest groups to hold their ground…Frist told reporters, ‘Are we going to shift from that principle? The answer to that is no.’” [WP]