Bill Frist

From SourceWatch
Jump to: navigation, search
Bill Frist served Tennessee in the Senate from 1995 to 2007

William Harrison Frist, M.D. was a Republican U.S. senator from Tennessee from 1995 to 2007. He served as Senate majority leader from 2003 to 2007. He opted to retire rather than seek reelection in 2006. He was frequently mentioned as a potential candidate for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, before declaring that he would not run in November 2006.



Born February 22, 1952 in Nashville, Frist is a fourth-generation Tennessean. Frist graduated from Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, Tennessee and then from Princeton University in 1974, where he specialized in health care policy at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International 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.

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 heart 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 transplants, including pediatric heart transplants and combined heart and lung transplants.

Entering politics

Though he was a public policy major in college, Frist was late to take an interest in politics; he did not vote for the first time until he was 36. 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 U.S. Senate election in 1994. 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, George H.W. Bush-Dan 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, Tennessee's racially segregated 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, DC, 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, defeating incumbent Sasser in the 1994 Republican sweep of both Houses of Congress by 13 points, thus becoming the first physician in the Senate since 1928. There were claims that Frist had used Barry and other symbolic issues to appeal to Tennessee's Southern conservative, white majority; the Frist camp denied it.

In U.S. Senate election, 2000, Frist easily won reelection with 66 percent of the vote. He was elected by the largest vote total ever received by a candidate for statewide election in the history of Tennessee, although Al Gore won a higher percentage of the vote (70%) in his 1990 Senate re-election.

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.

As the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he helped Republicans win back the Senate in the 2002 midterm election. His committee collected $66.4 million for 2001-2002, 50% more than the previous year. Shortly afterwards, Senator Trent Lott made comments at a Strom Thurmond birthday celebration in which he said that if Thurmond's segregationist presidential bid of 1948 had succeeded, "we wouldn't have all these problems today". In the aftermath, Lott resigned his position as Senate Majority Leader and Frist was chosen unanimously by Senate Republicans as his replacement. He became the second youngest Senate Majority Leader in US history. In his 2005 book, "Herding Cats, A Lifetime in Politics", Lott accuses William Frist of being "one of the main manipulators" in the debate that ended Senator Lott's leadership in the Republican Senate. Lott wrote that Senator Frist's actions amounted to a "personal betrayal." Frist "...didn't even have the courtesy to call and tell me personally that he was going to run." "If Frist had not announced exactly when he did, as the fire was about to burn out, I would still be majority leader of the Senate today." Lott wrote.

In the 2003 legislative session, Frist enjoyed many successes. He was able to push many initiatives through to fruition, including the Bush administration's third major tax cut and legislation that was against partial-birth abortion (currently on appeal to the Supreme Court). However, the tactics which he used to achieve those victories alienated many Democrats. In 2004, by comparison, he saw no major legislative successes, with the explanations ranging from delay tactics by Democrats to lack of unity within the Republican Party.

In a prominent and nationally broadcast speech to the Republican National Convention in August, 2004, Frist highlighted his background as a doctor and focused on several issues related to health care.[1] He spoke in favor of the recently passed Medicare prescription drug benefit and the passage of legislation providing for Health Savings Accounts. He described President Bush's policy regarding stem cell research, limiting embryonic stems cells to certain existing lines, as "ethical." In an impassioned argument for medical malpractice tort reform, Frist called personal injury trial lawyers "predators": "We must stop them from twisting American medicine into a litigation lottery where they hit the jackpot and every patient ends up paying."[2] Frist has been an advocate for imposing caps on the amount of money courts can award plaintiffs for noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases.

During the 2004 election season, Frist employed the unprecedented political tactic of going to the home state South Dakota of the opposition party (Democrat)'s minority leader, Tom Daschle, a moderate Democrat, and actively campaigned against him, quite successfully, since Daschle's Republican opponent, John Thune, defeated Daschle. 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 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 in 2008, much in the same tradition as Bob Dole, a previous holder of the Senate Majority Leader position. In a June 2004 interview with Christian Science Monitor Frist downplayed the possibility of being a presidential candidate. "It is not a goal of mine. I am a heart- and lung-transplant surgeon ... and that's my life. My intention is to serve in the ... Senate for 12 years and then return to Nashville." [3]

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.

Many of Frist's opponents have attacked him for what they see as pandering to future Republican primary voters. They claim that he has taken extreme positions on social issues such as the Terri Schiavo matter in order to please them. On the other hand, Frist changed his position on stem cell research, contradicting the wishes of the religious right.

There has also been controversy regarding the "nuclear option," under which the Republicans would change a rule in the Senate to prevent the filibuster of judicial nominations. Although Frist claimed that "[n]ever before has a minority blocked a judicial nominee that has majority support for an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor," critics pointed to the nearly two century history of the filibuster, including the successful four-day 1968 Republican filibuster of Lyndon Johnson's chief justice nominee, Abe Fortas. (see [4], [5]); some Republicans, however, dispute the claim that Fortas enjoyed majority support in the Senate. Other conservatives note that there is nothing unconstitutional about changing rules over the filibuster; for example, until 1975, cloture required a two-thirds majority, rather than the three-fifths majority in today's Senate. In 1998 Frist did participate in the Republican filibuster to stall the nomination of openly gay James C. Hormel to be ambassador to Luxembourg; Hormel eventually received a recess appointment from President Bill Clinton, bypassing a Senate vote.

More criticism of perceived weakness came in the midst of an extended confirmation fight over Bush's pick for US ambassador to the United Nations, John R. Bolton. Twice Frist failed to garner the 60 votes to break cloture, getting less votes the second time and even losing one conservative Republican (George Voinovich of Ohio). On June 21, 2005, Frist said the situation had been "exhausted" and there would be no more votes. Only an (see [6]) hour later, after speaking to the White House, Frist said: "The president made it very clear he wants an up-or-down vote." The sudden switch in strategy led to charges of flip-flopping in response to pressure from the Bush administration. Nevertheless, no up-and-down vote was held, and Bush made a recess appointment of Bolton.

Ideology and issues

Frist's primary legislative focus has been on issues of concern to the health care industry. He opposes guarantees that health care be provided to all Americans, favoring instead free markets for health care services. The senator also opposes abortion. In the Senate, he led the fight against intact dilation and extraction (also known as partial-birth abortion). He voted for the Partial-Birth Abortion Act of 2003, voted against an amendment to include a women's health exception (as he considered the procedure to be hazardous to a women's health), and is opposed to all federal funding of abortion. [7] Despite this, Frist retains a large personal stock holding in the Frist family's for-profit hospital chain (Hospital Corporation of America), which provides abortions. At least one pro-life mutual fund refuses to invest in HCA because of its abortion services. [8][9] Frist supports a total ban on human cloning, even for purposes of stem cell research. He supports programs to fight HIV/AIDS and African poverty. He travels to Africa frequently to provide medical care.

Since 2001, Frist had stood beside President Bush in his insistence that only currently existing lines be used for stem cell research. In June 2004 he expressed concern that there were unrealistic expectations of what stem cell research could achieve. "As a physician, you don't want to give undue hope or over-promise therapy to patients.... It is a disservice, and I would say ethically irresponsible to overpromise on research. [With] Alzheimer's, that's what happening. If you listed 20 promising research efforts [for Alzheimer's], stem-cell wouldn't be there. Yet, in the mind of the American people, you would put it No. 1. That is overpromising." [10]

But in July 2005, Frist reversed course and endorsed a House-passed plan to expand federal funding of the research, saying "it's not just a matter of faith, it's a matter of science." Up to that point the legislation had been considered bottled up in the Senate. The decision quickly drew criticism from social conservatives such as James Dobson, but garnered praise from Democrats and former First Lady Nancy Reagan.

During an interview on December 5, 2004, Frist, who is a supporter of abstinence-only education, was asked about a government-funded abstinence education program that stated AIDS could be transmitted by sweat and tears. Despite there being no medical evidence to support such a statement, Frist responded: "I don't know. You can get the virus in tears and sweat. But in terms of infecting somebody, it would be very hard."

On education, Frist supports the No Child Left Behind Act, which passed in 2001 with bipartisan support. In August 2005 he announced his support for teaching intelligent design ideology in public school science classes.

In November, 2005, Frist told reporters that he was less concerned about torture at CIA secret prisons than he was about compromising the security of millions of Americans.[11].

Iraq War

Frist voted for the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq in Oct. 2002.

For more information see the chart of U.S. Senate votes on the Iraq War.

2006 Elections

With Frist announcing that he would retire at the end of his term, Democrats nominated Harold E. Ford Jr and Republicans nominated Bob Corker to contest the November 2006 election for his Senate seat. (See U.S. congressional elections in 2006) [12]

Personal Wealth

Frist's net worth was between $15 million and $45 million based on his financial disclosure forms released in 2005. [13]

Written works

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 well received, the book later spurred accusations of hypocrisy regarding his remarks about Richard A. Clarke. When Clarke published his book Against All Enemies in 2004, Frist stated "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. In December 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.

Charitable Activities

In 1998 he visited African hospitals and schools with the Christian aid group Samaritan's Purse - which seeks "the advancement of the Christian faith through educational projects and the relief of poverty".

Frist has a fortune in the millions of dollars, most of it the result of his ownership of stock in Hospital Corporation of America, the for-profit hospital chain founded by his brother and father. Frist's 2005 financial disclosure form lists blind trusts valued between $7 million and $35 million.

Members of the Frist family have been major donors to Princeton University, pledging a reported $25 million in 1997 for the construction of the Frist Campus Center. [14] Frist has said that, a few years after his 1974 graduation from Princeton, "I made a commitment to myself that if I was ever in a position to help pull together the resources to establish a center [on the Princeton campus] where there could be an informal exchange of ideas, and to establish an environment that is conducive to the casual exchange of information, I would do so." [15]

Meet the Cash Constituents

Links to more campaign contribution information for Bill Frist
from the Center for Responsive Politics' site.
Fundraising profile: 2006 election cycle Career totals
Top contributors by organization/corporation: 2006 election cycle Career totals
Top contributors by industry: 2006 election cycle Career totals


Shielding vaccine companies

In what has been described as a brazen move by Senator Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), the lawmakers covertly inserted language [in December 2005] in a fiscal year 2006 Defense spending conference report—the bill, H.R. 2863, was ultimately signed into law as Public Law 109-148—that would grant certain legal immunity to vaccine manufacturers, even in cases of willful misconduct. This language was added quietly and in the dead of night, receiving no debate on the House floor. Despite strong opposition from congressional members, Frist and Hastert used their power in the Senate and House to force the language through. The potential impact of this addition is that American citizens would have little legal recourse in the event of serious injury or death resulting from vaccines designed to combat an avian influenza pandemic. Several news articles have reported that both Frist and Hastert (and others, including Hastert's son) benefited from their actions. The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) is purported to be the key author of the language additions. This trade association represents virtually all major vaccine manufacturers.

See Articles on Bill Frist for references and documentation.

Medical school experiments

While in medical school, Frist obtained cats from animal shelters, under pretense of adoption as pets, for school research experiments in which he killed the animals. In a 1989 autobiography, Frist described his deception in obtaining these shelter cats as "heinous and dishonest". He attributed his behavior to the pressures of school. The incident sparked controversy after a 2002 Boston Globe story repeated the account.

Saddam Hussein and Weapons of Mass Destruction

Ahead of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Frist repeatedly emphasized that a central reason for military action was that Saddam Hussein's regime possessed weapons of mass destruction which posed a potential threat to the U.S. "Let there be no mistake about our Nation's purpose in confronting Iraq -- Saddam Hussein's regime poses a clear threat to the people of United States, its friends and its allies, and it is a threat that we must address now," he said in a speech to the Senate on March 7, 2003. [16] In an opinion column in the Washington Post shortly afterwards, Frist invoked a medical metaphor to justify the invasion. "Getting rid of Saddam Hussein's regime is our best inoculation. Destroying once and for all his weapons of disease and death is a vaccination for the world," he wrote. [17] However, three months later, in an interview on NBC's Today Show, Frist downplayed the threat of weapons of mass destruction as a justification for the war. "I'm not sure that's the major reason we went to war," he said. [18]

Terri Schiavo case

Senator Frist has been criticized for the Terri Schiavo case. During his tenure as the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Frist watched videotapes that were made and edited by an advocacy group that felt that Florida resident Terri Schiavo should not be disconnected from equipment that sustained her bodily functions.

From this viewing of a videotape, he contradicted the diagnosis of all the attending physicians that Terri Schiavo was brain dead, and said that Florida doctors had erred in saying Terri Schiavo is in a "persistent vegetative state."

"I question it based on a review of the video footage which I spent an hour or so looking at last night in my office," he said in a lengthy speech in which he quoted medical texts and standards. "She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli." His speech on the floor of the senate: "I have looked at the video footage. Based on the footage provided to me, which was part of the facts of the case, she does respond." (see [19])

A subsequent autopsy after Ms. Schiavo's death showed long-term and irreversible brain damage that laid to rest any argument that Ms. Schiavo had retained any higher brain function. The autopsy also showed Terri Schiavo to have been blind. Subsequently the senator backpedaled, even going so far as to say "I never said 'She responded.'" (see [20])

Even before this autopsy, Frist had been criticized for his comments about Ms. Schiavo. His critics said that it was unprofessional to diagnose someone who he had never examined and had only seen on a videotape. They also pointed out that Frist is not a neurosurgeon.

A complaint to the Tennessee Bureau of Health Licensure and Regulation regarding Senator Frist's intervention into another attending physician's case was filed. The complaint brought the Frist Senate Office's July 11, 2005, response that Doctor Frist "did not violate the statutes and/or rules governing the practice of medicine in the State of Tennessee". (His statements were made in Washington, DC about Ms. Schiavo's Florida hospitalization.)

HCA-Conflict of interest allegations

Frist placed his investments in a blind trust when he joined the Senate to avoid accusations of conflicts of interest. Asked in a television interview in January 2003 whether he should sell his Hospital Corporation of America stock, Frist responded, "Well, I think really for our viewers it should be understood that I put this into a blind trust. So as far as I know, I own no HCA stock." However, Frist's blind trust provided him with regular updates on the status of his assets.[21] Some have suggested that this is because compliance with Senate ethics rules requires disclosure of the blind trust portfolios, and that no Congressperson can be unaware of their holdings.[22]

HCA-Medicare investigation

Hospital Corporation of America was the subject of a decade-long Federal investigation into double-bookkeeping and suspected criminal fraud involving the bilking of Medicare, Medicaid, and Tricare (the federal program that provides health insurance to members of the military and their families). During this period no one in the Frist family had any executive position in HCA. HCA has paid a total of $1.7 billion in fines, the largest fraud settlement in U.S. history. Shortly after Frist assumed his position as Senate Majority Leader, a final fine of $631 million was assessed and the ongoing Justice Department investigation into HCA was dropped. Rick Scott, who had been hired to run the company after Frist's brother's retirement, quickly left the company. Frist's brother, a billionaire, returned to HCA to get the company back on track; in addition, HCA was allowed to continue its Medicare contracts.[23][24]

Insider trading allegations and the SEC Investigations

On September 20, 2005, the Associated Press reported that Frist sold his HCA shares, which had been in a blind trust, two weeks before the company announced that earnings would not meet expectations, which caused a substantial drop in the share price. A spokeswoman said that Frist told the trustee who managed his HCA shares to sell them on June 13, and Frist had no control over the exact date when they were sold. Frist further claimed that the order was given to avoid allegations of conflict of interest over his participation in healthcare legislation, and that he possessed no non-public information when the stock was sold. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York has issued subpoenas to investigate the sale, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating. Frist has retained the Washington, D.C. law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr to defend him in connection with these investigations.

The investigation was closed in April 2007 without any charges being filed.[1]

FEC Violation

On June 1, 2006, the FEC announced that Frist violated federal campaign finance laws by failing to report a $1.44 million loan jointly taken out by Frist 2000, Inc. and by Frist's 1994 campaign committee, Bill Frist for Senate, Inc. Only the 1994 committee disclosed the loan, while the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) requires 100% disclosure of all loans taken out by campaign committees. Frist was fined $11,000 by the FEC for the violation. [25]

Financial disclosures

It was reported by the AP that Internal Revenue Service forms showed that Frist and his wife are the only trustees managing a family foundation. However, he has not been listing his position as head of these foundations on his Senate disclosure forms. These disclosure forms are made public by law and the last year that a tax form was avaliable for the foundation was in 2004. During this year the foundation had more than $2 million in assets.

In response to a phone call by the AP regarding this matter, Frist's spokeperson stated that "It was recently discovered that Senator Frist's Senate financial disclosure forms may contain some inadvertent errors which are under review and will be promptly corrected by amending his financial disclosure."[26]

Failing to participate in continuing medical education

On August 31, 2006, it was announced that Frist, a heart and lung surgeon, would likely be fined for failing to partake in continuing medical education that is required of all Tennessee doctors. His spokeswoman, Andrea Turner, said that he is expected to be fined $40 for each hour of education he did not compete. In addition, he will need to make up the missed hours within six months. A spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Health said that additional disciplinary action, such as the suspension of his medical license, is unlikely. [27]

Named one of the "most corrupt"

In both 2005 and 2006, the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington singled out Frist as one of the most "corrupt" members of Congress, and filed a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee calling for an investigation of the stock sale, an alleged cover-up, and an allegedly mishandled disclosure of a campaign loan.[28] Frist denies any violation of campaign finance laws; others have claimed that, because Frist has no formal relationship with HCA, he cannot be an "insider" for purposes of insider-trading prohibitions under the securities laws, and that SEC investigations of sales in advance of important announcements are routine.[29]. However, under §10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, any person who trades in securities for personal profit, using confidential information misappropriated in breach of a fiduciary duty to the source of the information, may be held both civilly and criminally liable according to the U.S. Supreme Court. [30] Thus, if Frist traded on information illegally passed to him by his relatives, he could be convicted under the Securities Exchange Act.

Committees and Affiliations

Committees in the 109th Congress (2005-2006)


More Background Data

Frist Voting Record Courtesy Project Vote Smart

Wikipedia also has an article on Bill Frist. This article may use content from the Wikipedia article under the terms of the GFDL.

Resources & Articles


Articles & Commentary

  • Articles & Commentary: This page includes links to major articles available online from 2001 to the present.

Local blogs and discussion sites

Congresspedia/SourceWatch Resources


DC Office:
509 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: 202-224-3344
TTYD Number: 202-224-1911
Fax: 202-228-1264
Web Email

District Office - Chattanooga:
James Building
735 Broad Street, Suite 701
Chattanooga, TN 37402
Phone: 423-756-2757
Fax: 423-756-5313

District Office - Jackson:
200 East Main Street, Suite 111
Jackson, TN 38301
Phone: 731-424-9655
Fax: 731-424-8322

District Office - Kingsport:
10368 Wallace Alley Street, Suite 7
Kingsport, TN 37663
Phone: 423-323-1252
Fax: 423-323-0358

District Office - Knoxville:
800 Market Street, Suit 121
Knoxville, TN 37902
Phone: 865-637-4180
Fax: 865-637-9886

District Office - Memphis:
5100 Poplar Avenue, Suite 514
Memphis, TN 38137
Phone: 901-683-1910
Fax: 901-683-3610

District Office - Nashville:
28 White Bridge Road, Suite 211
Nashville, TN 37205
Phone: 615-352-9411

Fax: 615-352-9985

  1. Deborah Solomon, "Frist Probe Closed Without Charges," Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2007.
  2. Project Vote Smart's Founding & Executive Board Member, Project Vote Smart, accessed November 12, 2008.
  3. Committee on Conscience, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, accessed October 2, 2007.
  4. Directors, National Museum of Natural History, accessed October 5, 2008.
  5. Board, Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty, accessed November 20, 2010.