Bill Frist, Senate’s Only Physician, Expected To Be Elected Majority Leader After Former Republican Leader Trent Lott Resigns; Frist Can Play ‘Critical Role’ in Increasing AIDS Funding
Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), the only physician in the Senate, today is expected to be approved as Senate Majority Leader in a vote by Senate Republicans, replacing outgoing Republican Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who resigned on Friday, the Washington Times reports. Lott's resignation came after he faced criticism for comments he made at a Dec. 5 birthday party for retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.). Lott said he was proud that his state had voted for Thurmond for president in 1948, when Thurmond ran under the segregationist "Dixiecrat" party. "If the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over the years," Lott said. The Times reports that the controversy over Lott's comments "became too much of a burden" for Senate Republicans and the Bush Administration and forced Lott to resign (Dinan, Washington Times, 12/21). The Baltimore Sun reports that "it was clear" on Friday that Frist had the support of more than half of the Senate's 51 Republicans, making the special election by conference call scheduled for today "a mere formality" (Hirschfeld Davis, Baltimore Sun, 12/21). Frist has already received public commitments from at least 32 Republican senators in the 108th Congress (Casimir, New York Daily News, 12/22). According to the New York Times, in his eight years as a senator, Frist has "tended to specialize in health issues, including Medicare." Frist has had a conservative voting record but has been known to act as a "legislative broker and deal maker" on issues like stem cell research, AIDS research and patients' rights legislation (Toner, New York Times, 12/22). When not addressing his duties as a senator, Frist often volunteers his services as a physician to public housing residents in Washington, D.C., or travels to Africa to work with people suffering from malnutrition or other medical conditions, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. "He's very willing to give of himself. He's passionate about the human condition. He's passionate about people suffering. He's passionate about the AIDS issue," Ken Isaacs, director of international projects for Samaritan's Purse, a religious group that sets up Frist's trips to Africa, said (Hutcheson, Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/21).
Frist on AIDS
Frist has faced criticism from some AIDS advocates for not "fighting for more funding" to combat the disease (Chen/McManus, Los Angeles Times, 12/21). Frist was "chastised" recently by several Senate Democrats for failing to guarantee $500 million in funding he has said is needed to fight AIDS in Africa. The Bush administration initially promised the $500 million, but eventually cut all of the funds in a larger fight over spending, the Washington Post reports (Von Drehle, Washington Post, 12/21). However, Frist has received support of the Global Health Council for his work in fighting AIDS worldwide. "As a physician, humanitarian and soon-to-be Republican leader of the Senate, Senator Bill Frist can play a critical role in helping Congress to understand and take action on the wide and complex range of global health issues, particularly the global AIDS pandemic. ... He understands the role the U.S. government needs to adopt if we are to stop the ravages of AIDS. As a leader of the Senate, his voice will be heard around the globe," Nils Daulaire, CEO of the Global Health Council, said (Global Health Council release, 12/20). In addition, AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein said, "Sen. Frist's leadership has mobilized his party and the Senate in addressing the global AIDS crisis. ... As majority leader, he can quickly move legislation he has authored that finally brings life-saving treatment to the world's poor" (AIDS Healthcare Foundation release, 12/22).