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A close look at the Senate Majority Leader

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted August 4, 2003

I can't think of when I have disagreed with my friend Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Ok.). He is perhaps the most principled conservative to have served in the Senate in recent times. Senator Larry Craig (R-Id.) is another good friend. He was, until recently, in the leadership and often fought for the conservative cause, even when he had to go against the then Majority Leader to do so.

The two of them, along with Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wy.), took strong issue with Majority Leader Bill Frist's leadership on the energy bill. What was even more disappointing is that they chose to air their differences with Frist in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. First of all they spoke too soon. They insisted that by bringing up judicial nominations there would not be an energy bill until after September, and then maybe none at all. Late July 31st, the Senate passed an energy bill 85-14. It is a deeply flawed bill, but the Senate leader really wanted to pass a bill so a Conference Committee between the House and the Senate can now re-write it to favor more of Inhofe's and Craig's views. That would not have been possible with the bill that was pending. Democrats of the Obstructionist Party filed more than 400 amendments to the energy bill. They didn't want any bill at all. Instead, Frist took up the energy bill that had passed the Senate when Democrats were in control. It passed with that lopsided vote and now the Conference Committee will do its work.

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Bill Frist of Tenn., center, flanked by Sen. Mitch McConnell , R-Ky., left, and Sen. Rick Santorum , R-Pa. meets with reporters during a Capitol Hill news conference on August 1
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Bill Frist of Tenn., center, flanked by Sen. Mitch McConnell , R-Ky., left, and Sen. Rick Santorum , R-Pa. meets with reporters during a Capitol Hill news conference on August 1

Meanwhile Sen. Frist, who has a remarkable grasp of the big picture, forced the Democrats to vote again on judges, demonstrating that the Obstructionist Party is ready to filibuster an ever-expanding list of brilliant Bush nominees to the Courts of Appeal. This is something many of us on the outside pleaded with the Majority Leader to do. Unlike so many times in the past when our pleas were completely ignored, Frist continued to move ahead. He understands that to make any headway on the judicial nominations, the movement needed those votes. They will be a major theme played out on talk radio, various websites and in newsletters of all kinds during the August recess. Tom Daschle, the leader of the Obstructionist Party in the Senate, immediately took to the floor of the Senate and read the Roll Call article where Inhofe, Craig and Thomas were critical of Frist's leadership. Fine if they disagreed. I'm sure the Majority Leader would have found time to see these Senators. They could have read the riot act to Frist if they were so inclined. But to use a paper which is no friend of conservatives in order to be critical of their leader, it seems, was unwise, and as it turned out, unnecessary.

Moving beyond the flap over the energy bill, I have been pleasantly surprised with Senator Frist as Majority Leader. As I told him, I was prepared not to like him. Given that he was pushed for that position by some of the Senate's least conservative members, I thought Frist was a stalking horse for them. He is not. He is his own man. Of course I don't agree with him on everything, but as a whole, he has been a decided improvement over his predecessor who has been a friend of mine for 35 years. He is tough, yet reasonable. He understands that good principles make good politics. His experience as a renowned heart surgeon gives him a perspective which few in the Senate have. He didn't get to be Senator by holding every other office in the state first. He went directly from the hospital to another sick institution, the U.S. Senate.

Frist has a profound sense of optimism, not a silly optimism that ignores reality, but an optimism that is based on the notion that God is in control. To my surprise I have learned, since getting to know him better, that Frist is a very prayerful man. With the Senator, family is paramount. When Frist strongly endorsed the Federal Marriage Amendment, the media claimed it was some cynical ploy on Frist's part to gain points with the right so he could compromise on other things. It is no cynical ploy. It is what Frist believes. The Senate Majority Leader, who has but a one-vote margin in the Senate, has still brought a sense of hope to the majority party that things can actually be done.

I am sure there will come a day when I have to take strong issue with Leader Frist. In the meantime, I thank God he is there. In the big picture, this leader has a grasp of things that no other Republican leader has had since the late Sen. Everett Dirksen (R-Il.), who died in 1969. Dirksen on occasion sold out conservatives. Thus far I am pleased to note that I can't say the same about Frist.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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