- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2006

Majority Leader Bill Frist officially ended his 12-year Senate tenure yesterday with a ceremonial speech to a crowded chamber weeks before Democrats officially take control.

“I hope that my service, that the example of someone who had never served before, spent his life pursuing another profession, coming here and rising from 100 in seniority to majority leader … will inspire others to seek office,” Mr. Frist said.

Vice President Dick Cheney presided over the chamber, filled with more than 40 Republicans and nearly 30 Democratic colleagues. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, also attended.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada urged his fellow Democrats to attend the address.

In his own speech afterward, Mr. Reid said that though he and Mr. Frist have had their “ups and downs” he never doubted the majority leader’s character. “You’re a good man,” he said, before the two embraced awkwardly.

The Tennessee Republican, 54, stuck to his self-imposed 12-year term limit and recently abandoned his well-publicized White House aspirations.

When he was elected to the Senate in 1994, the heart and lung surgeon had never held public office. He is known for peppering stories and speeches with medical references.

Mr. Frist’s rise in the chamber began when he was elected in 2000 to lead the National Republican Senatorial Committee and helped his party win the majority two years later, although the elections last month handed Republicans a crushing six-seat loss and returned control to Democrats.

Mr. Frist rose to majority leader by seizing a key opportunity in late 2002 when Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, made remarks that were interpreted as racist. Mr. Lott, enmeshed in political scandal, was forced to give up his leadership — a position that was seized by Mr. Frist . In his book “Herding Cats,” Mr. Lott said he “considered Frist’s power grab a personal betrayal.”

Mr. Frist has made his own missteps as majority leader. Last year, he was criticized for essentially issuing a diagnosis of Terry Schiavo — a brain-damaged Florida woman at the center of a right to die battle — by studying her medical records and a video recording. He and other Republicans trying to stop the removal of Mrs. Schiavo’s feeding tube questioned whether she was in a persistent vegetative state, as her physicians determined.

Mr. Frist generally has been a staunch ally of President Bush and helped secure passage of Mr. Bush’s tax cuts.

Conservatives criticized his inability to break Democratic filibusters of Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees, but he managed to gain confirmation for most of the judges, including two conservative Supreme Court justices.

“He got it done,” said fellow Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander, who argued that those judicial confirmations, the Medicare prescription drug program and a $15 billion initiative to fight AIDS worldwide would not have been accomplished without Mr. Frist.

Sen. Mike DeWine, an Ohio Republican who lost re-election last month, said the defeat “had nothing to do with Bill Frist.”

“I think he has been a good leader,” Mr. DeWine said, especially praising Mr. Frist’s behind-the-scenes work to fight AIDS.

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