Sen. Bill Frist Expected To Be Elected Majority Leader After Former Republican Leader Trent Lott Resigns Post
Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a physician by training, 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 on Dec. 5 that appeared to endorse racial segregation (Dinan, Washington Times, 12/21). The Baltimore Sun reports that "it was clear" on Dec. 20 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 (Hutcheson, Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/21).
Frist has faced criticism for his ties to the beleaguered hospital chain HCA, which his father and brother founded and helped run, the Washington Post reports. According to the Post, Frist has reaped a "multi-million dollar fortune" from his personal investments in HCA (Von Drehle, Washington Post, 12/21). Frist is the ninth-richest Senator, with a personal wealth of approximately $20 million (Chen/McManus, Los Angeles Times, 12/21). However, Frist has never played a role in running the nation's largest chain of for-profit hospitals. According to the Post, that distance "probably saved his political life." HCA officials last week announced the company had come to terms with the federal government on a $631 million settlement for Medicare fraud claims, bringing the total payments made to the government by HCA for fraud to $1.7 billion (Washington Post, 12/21). The Los Angeles Times reports that Frist's investments in HCA "could prove politically nettlesome" in the future, as he comes under increased scrutiny as majority leader (Los Angeles Times, 12/21).
Frist has also faced criticism for his ties to drug maker Eli Lilly, after the company revealed that it helped boost sales of Frist's recent best-selling book on bioterrorism. Eli Lilly representatives purchased 5,000 copies of the book and distributed it to 13 cities as part of an educational program to assist physicians in dealing with bioterrorism. Frist and his staff deny any knowledge of the sale. However, the Washington Post reports that Frist's "close ties" with Lilly were further questioned after a proposal written by Frist was "quietly woven" into the Homeland Security bill, since enacted into law; the proposal restricts the ability of people to sue Lilly for injuries related to Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used in vaccines against childhood diseases (Washington Post, 12/21).
Frist has faced criticism from some AIDS advocates for not "fighting for more funding" to combat the disease (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 (Washington Post, 12/21). However, Frist has received support of the Global Health Council for his work in fighting AIDS worldwide (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).
The following broadcast programs reported on Frist's background and connections in the health care industry:
- NPR's "All Things Considered": The segment includes comments from Healthcare Leadership Council President Mary Grealy, Federation of American Hospitals President Chip Kahn and Rich Tarplin, chair of the board of the lobbying firm Timmons & Company (Rovner, "All Things Considered," NPR, 12/20). The full segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- NPR's "Weekend Edition Saturday": The segment includes comments from Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) (Naylor, "Weekend Edition Saturday," NPR, 12/21). The full segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- MPR's "Marketplace": The segment discusses Frist's connection to HCA with Larry Nobel of the Center for Responsive Politics (Henn, "Marketplace," MPR, 12/20). A transcript and audio of the segment in RealPlayer are available online.