Two weeks ago Tennessee Senator Bill Frist backed theembattled Trent Lott after he had openly praised StromThurmond’s run for president in 1948 on apro-segregation, anti-civil rights platform."I wholeheartedly support the leadership of Trent Lottin the U.S. Senate."
He went on to tell the Commercial Appeal of Memphis,Tenn.: "The statement was unfortunate, and it was offthe cuff and casual," Frist said. "I know Trent Lottand he’s not a racist. It’s important peopleunderstand the Republican Party leads on issues onequity and fairness and nondiscrimination. Anyimplication otherwise is a disappointment to me."Today Lott is out as Senate Majority Leader and Fristis in.
The leadership change is being hailed by theRepublicans as a monumental change.Frist, an accomplished heart surgeon, compared his newresponsibility as Senate Republican leader to saving adying patient with a new heart.
Frist said, "I accepted that responsibility with aprofound sense of humility, very similar to placingthat heart into a dying woman or a child or a man."But Frist is already coming under criticism.
Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization forWomen, said "Few senators have a worse voting recordon civil rights than Trent Lott, but Bill Frist is oneof them. Frist has voted against sex education,international family planning, emergency contraception(the morning-after pill), affirmative action, hatecrimes legislation and the EmploymentNon-Discrimination Act."
Civil rights groups are openly warning that theTennessee’s doctor’s record on race closely mirrorsthat of Trent Lott’s. The NAACP has given him an "F"grade for voting against its issues more than 75percent of the time during the last Congress.And Michigan Congressman John Conyers Jr. of theCongressional Black Caucus asked the JusticeDepartment to investigate "efforts to suppress theminority vote" in this year’s elections, citing"troubling incidents in key Senate races under thepurview of National Republican Senatorial Committeechairman Bill Frist."
Prior to running for Senate, he was a member of theall-white Belle Meade Country Club in Nashville. Under the headline "Tennessee Redeemed," theneo-confederate magazine Southern Partisan praisedFrist’s election in 1994. Frist was labeled a "genuineSouthern conservative."
Consumer groups and patient rights groups have alsoexpressed concern over Frist’s extensive ties to themedical industry. Not only is Frist the first doctorto serve in the Senate since the 1920s, his fatherformed HCA, the largest for-profit chain of hospitalsin the country.
Just last Wednesday HCA agreed to pay close to $900million to settle a massive fraud inquiry by theJustice Department. All told the company, formerlyColumbia/HCA, will pay more than $1.7 billion in civiland criminal penalties the largest ever in a healthcare fraud case.
Frist has never worked for the family business but USAToday reports that he owns about $25 million incompany stock. His wife owns another million.According to CBS News if Frist were in the House or inthe White House, he would have to rid himself of theHCA investment. But the Senate’s relaxed rules allowslegislators to vote on issues that affect personalinvestments as long as it’s good for the country.And the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rightscharges Frist has helped block strong patients bill ofrights legislation, held up a Medicare prescriptiondrug benefit bill and promoted capping verdictsreceived by patients who sue negligent hospitals.Frist is also the Senator who first put forward acontroversial bill that exempted from legal liabilitydrug companies, such as Eli Lilly, that manufacturedThimerosal, a preservative in childhood vaccines thathas been linked to a rise in autism. The Frist-pennedlegislation initially failed but it was secretlyreinserted into the House version of the 475-pageHomeland Security Act. To this day no legislator hastaken responsibility for the provision and Fristdenies any connection.
In response to the mystery, the online public interestjournal, TomPaine.com has offered a $10,000 reward towhoever can prove the identity of the so-called EliLilly Bandit.
Within the Republican Party, Frist is seen as one ofits rising stars. As head of the National RepublicanSenatorial Commission he captained the recent campaignto regain the Senate Majority. Some view him a futurevice president or even presidential candidate. Todayis his first day as Senate Majority Leader.
- Charles Lewis, founder and executivedirector of the Center for Public Integrity. He is theauthor of the Buying of the President and severalother books about transparency in government. Lewisdid investigative reporting for 11 years at ABC Newsand CBS News, where he was a producer for 60 Minutes.He was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1998. Lewiswas interviewed just last week by Newsweek magazine.The article is called The Skeletons in Frist’sCloset.
- Kim Gandy, President, NationalOrganization for Women. Gandy said "Few senators havea worse voting record on civil rights than Trent Lott,but Bill Frist is one of them. Frist has voted againstsex education, international family planning,emergency contraception (the morning-after pill),affirmative action, hate crimes legislation and theEmployment Non-Discrimination Act."
- Jamie Court, executive director of thenonpartisan, nonprofit Foundation for Taxpayer andConsumer Rights
- Reverend Harold Middlebrook, Canaan Baptist Church of Christ, Knoxville, Tennessee. Leading critic of Bill Frist during his 1994 electioncampaign against Jim Sasser. He launched a massiveget-out-the-vote effort to oppose Senator Frist’ssenate aspirations.