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Profile: US Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist - 2003-01-11


U.S. Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee has completed his first week as Senate Majority Leader. The Senate's only medical doctor, Mr. Frist was elected to the top leadership post to replace Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, who resigned under fire for making racially charged remarks.

Senator Frist expressed satisfaction with his first week on the job as Majority Leader, noting the Senate - along with the House -acted on several measures, including one to extend assistance to the unemployed: "We've been productive. It has been a productive start," he said.

A month ago Mr. Frist had no idea he would be leading a new Republican-led Congress.

His meteoric rise came after Senator Lott was pressured to step down for making controversial remarks. Mr. Lott prompted a political firestorm last month when he said the nation would have been better off had segregationist candidate Strom Thurmond been elected President in 1948.

Soon after being sworn in as Majority Leader, Mr. Frist - under pressure from Democrats and civil rights groups to do more to help minorities - vowed to establish an agenda that he said would be 'inclusive of all Americans.' "What I promise is the dialogue, the listening, learning, the recognition that all of us broadly, not just Republicans, but the American people have failed to address this as directly as we might," he said. "So that is my pledge."

Mr. Frist, first elected to the Senate in 1994, entered the leadership job with less political experience and seniority than most of the previous Senate leaders.

Since his election to the post a few weeks ago, Mr. Frist has been busy reading up on the Senate's history, studying how to run a chamber whose complex rules make often make it unruly and unpredictable.

Mr. Frist, a graduate of Harvard Medical School, is a heart and lung transplant surgeon, the only member of the Senate who is a doctor.

Senator Frist gave medical assistance to Senator Strom Thurmond when the then-98-year-old lawmaker collapsed on the Senate floor two years ago. He also offered advice to those who came in contact with an anthrax-tainted letter opened in then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office in October 2001. Three years earlier, he came to the aid of victims of a gunman who opened fire in the U.S. Capitol.

In addition, Senator Frist has made humanitarian missions to Sudan to perform operations on victims of that country's civil war.

He has taken a special interest in Africa, traveling with rock star Bono to the continent to promote the fight against AIDS. At a hearing on Capitol Hill last year, he expressed skepticism about the Sudanese government's commitment to a cease-fire accord. "In the past Khartoum I believe has not lived up to its agreements," he said. "Can we expect them to in the future when Khartoum continues to bomb civilians and ban relief flights leading to starvation of thousands?"

The White House sees Mr. Frist with his humanitarian interest, and smooth and friendly demeanor as the kind of 'compassionate conservative' that President Bush has championed.

The Bush administration made no secret of its support for MR. Frist's candidacy to be Majority Leader. The Senator's medical background will make him a powerful ally in Mr. Bush's efforts to move health care legislation through Congress.

The White House took particular notice of Mr. Frist when, as chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, he helped his party win back control of the Senate in November's election.

Although there is speculation Mr. Frist may run for President in 2008, the 50-year-old Senator is focused on running the Senate for now, hoping for a session that will be marked by what he calls 'ccoperation and achievement'.

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