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Bill Frist

Bill Frist
Bill Frist

Dr. William Harrison Frist (born February 22, 1952 in Nashville, Tennessee) is a Republican U.S. Senator from Tennessee and a cardiac surgeon. On December 23, 2002 he was voted to succeed Trent Lott as Senate Majority Leader.


Childhood and medical career

Frist is a fourth-generation Tennessean. His great-great grandfather was one of the founders of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and his father was a doctor.

Frist graduated from Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville and then from Princeton University in 1974, where he specialized in health care policy at the Woodrow Wilson School of International and Public affairs. In 1972 he held a summer internship with Tennessee Congressman Joe Evins , who advised Frist that if he wanted to pursue a political career, he should first have a career outside of politics. Frist proceeded to Harvard Medical School, where he received a Doctor of Medicine with honors in 1978.

While in medical school, Frist fraudulently adopted cats from animal shelters, then experimented on and killed them. Later, in his book "Transplant," he called this behavior "a heinous and dishonest thing to do."

Frist joined the lab of W. John Powell Jr., M.D., at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1977, where he continued his training in cardiovascular physiology. He left the lab in 1978 to become a resident in surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. In 1983 he spent time at Southampton General Hospital, Southampton, England as senior registrar in cardiothoracic surgery. He returned to Massachusetts General in 1984 as chief resident and fellow in cardiothoracic surgery. From 1985 until 1986, Frist was senior fellow and chief resident in cardiac transplant service and cardiothoracic surgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine. After completing his fellowship, he became a faculty member at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where he began a hear and lung transplantation program. He also became staff surgeon at the Nashville Veterans Administration Hospital. In 1989, he founded the Vanderbilt Transplant Center.

He is currently licensed as a physician, and is certified in general surgery and heart surgery. He has performed over 150 heart transplants and lung transplant s, including pediatric heart transplants and combined heart and lung transplants.

Entering politics

In 1990, he met with former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker about the possibilities of public office. Baker advised him to pursue the Senate, and in 1992 suggested that Frist begin preparations for a 1994 campaign. Frist began to build support. He served on Tennessee's Governor's Medicaid Task Force from 1992 to 1993, the Republican National Committee's Health Care Coalition's National Steering Committee, Bush-Quayle '92, and was deputy director of the Tennessee Bush-Quayle '92 campaign. As part of Frist's preparations for political office, in December 1993 he ended his membership in Nashville's all-white Belle Meade Country Club , which he had joined in the 1980s following family tradition.

During his first campaign, Frist repeatedly accused his opponent, incumbent Senator Jim Sasser, of "sending Tennessee money to Washington, to Marion Barry ... While I've been transplanting lungs and hearts to heal Tennesseans, Jim Sasser has been transplanting Tennesseans' wallets to Washington, home of Marion Barry." During that campaign, he also attacked Sasser for his attempt to become Senate Majority Leader, claiming that his opponent would be spending more time taking care of Senate business than Tennessee business. Frist won the election by 13 points, becoming the first physician in the Senate since 1928. Ironically, Frist himself is now Senate Majority Leader.

In 1998 he visited African hospitals and schools with the Christian aid group Samaritan's Purse.

In 2000, Frist easily won reelection, with 66 percent of the vote, the largest ever received by a candidate for statewide office in Tennessee.

National prominence

Frist first entered the national spotlight when two Washington police officers were shot outside the United States Capitol. Frist, the closest doctor, provided immediate medical attention. He also was the Congressional spokesman during the 2001 Anthrax attacks.

Sen. Frist with Sen. Lamar Alexander and Interior Secretary Gale Norton.
Sen. Frist with Sen. Lamar Alexander and Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

As the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he helped Republicans win back the Senate in the 2002 midterm elections. His committee collected $66.4 million in soft money for 2001-2002, 50% more than the previous year. Shortly afterwards, Senator Trent Lott made comments at a Strom Thurmond birthday celebration that raised questions about Lott's past with racial issues. In the aftermath, Lott resigned his position as Senate Majority Leader and Frist was chosen by Senate Republicans as his replacement.

On January 2, 2003, while on vacation, Frist happened upon an SUV crash near Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Frist stopped his car and helped the victims of the accident until emergency workers arrived. "It made all the difference; his help was invaluable, he really went above and beyond the call to help," emergency workers said.

In the 2003 legislative session, Frist enjoyed many successes. He was able to push many initiatives through to fruition, including a the third major tax cut of the Bush administration and a ban on so-called partial-birth abortions. However, his tactics used to achieve those victories alienated many Democrats. 2004, by comparison, has seen no major legislative successes, with the explanations ranging from delay tactics by Democrats to lack of unity within the Republican Party.

After the 2004 elections, Frist played a role in the controversy over Arlen Specter's post-election remarks. Frist demanded a public statement from Specter in which Specter would repudiate his earlier remarks and pledge support for President George W. Bush's judiciary nominees. Frist rejected an early version of the statement as too weak, and gave his approval to the statement which Specter eventually delivered.

Frist is widely seen as a potential presidential candidate for the Republican party, much in the same tradition as Bob Dole, a previous holder of the Senate Majority Leader position. However, there has been increasing dissent within the Republican caucus over his handling of the Majority Leader position, and his near invisibility as a spokesman for the Republican caucus, which has damaged his reputation. His supporters within the caucus point to his success in moving tax legislation important to the executive branch as a sign that he is simply filling his place on the team, namely to bring important bills to a vote, and then ensure that gains made on the floor are preserved in the conference committee process.

Frist has pledged to leave the Senate after two terms, which would be in 2006.

Personal Life

Senator Frist has been married to Karyn Frist since 1982. They have three sons, Harrison, Jonathan, and Bryan. As of 2004, Harrison is a sophmore at Princeton, and Jonathan and Bryan attend St. Albans School in Washington, D.C.. The Frist family is a member of the National Presbyterian Church .

Frist has been a pilot since the age of 16. He holds commercial, instrument and multi-engine ratings. He has also run seven marathons and two half-marathons.

In June, 1989, Frist published his first book, Transplant: A Heart Surgeon's Account of the Life-And-Death Dramas of the New Medicine. With J.H. Helderman, he edited "Grand Rounds in Transplantation" in 1995. In October, 1999, Frist co-authored Tennessee Senators, 1911-2001: Portraits of Leadership in a Century of Change with J. Lee Annis, Jr. In March, 2002, Frist published his third book, When Every Moment Counts: What You Need to Know About Bioterrorism from the Senate's Only Doctor. While generally received well, the book later invoked anger among some at a perceived hypocrisy with his remarks about Richard Clarke, stating "I am troubled that someone would sell a book, trading on their service as a government insider with access to our nation's most valuable intelligence, in order to profit from the suffering that this nation endured on September 11, 2001." In response, readers "monkeywrenched" the user reviews of his book [1]
. In December of 2003, Frist and coauthor Shirley Wilso released Good People Beget Good People: A Genealogy of the Frist Family, to lukewarm reviews. Frist has also written medical articles.

Frist has a $20 million fortune, most of it in stock in Hospital Corporation of America, the for-profit hospital chain founded by his brother and father.

Ideology and issues

Frist is a legislative specialist issues of concern to the health care industry. Health care has been his primary legislative focus. He opposes guarantees that health care will be provided to all Americans, if necessary through programs funded by the government. He argues that such programs will impose rationing of health care services. Instead, he promotes free markets for health care services. He is also concerned about education, and is a supporter of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Frist is a member of the Christian Right. He opposes abortion except in the instances of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is threatened. He is opposed to federal funding of abortion. In the Senate, he led the fight against Intact dilation and extraction. He supports programs to fight AIDS and African poverty . He travels to Africa at least once a year to provide medical care. After September 11, 2001, he developed an interest in bioterrorism.

Campaign finance

From 1997 to 2002, Frist's primary donors were health professionals ($600,000) and money-management companies ($265,000), Federal Express ($30,000), Vanderbilt University ($30,000), Powell Construction ($25,000), and HCA ($25,000).

In December 2004 Frist's campaign account reported being $524,000 in debt due to losses in the stock market.

External links and references

  • Official Senate website
  • Leadership in Recapturing the Senate Pushed Frist Into Spotlight , The New York Times, December 21, 2002
  • U.S. Senator Visits Africa Hospitals , AP, February 2, 1998
  • Frist a Major Shareholder in Reputed For-Profit Abortion Provider , Human Events Online
  • Top Industries Supporting Bill Frist , Center for Responsive Politics
  • Top Contributors Supporting Bill Frist , Center for Responsive Politics

Last updated: 02-07-2005 02:33:43
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55