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June 5, 2005
Frist: Vindication Will Be Mine ... Someday

Bill Frist gets a close look from the New York Times, complete with snarky photo caption and balanced in that people from both sides take their shots at the Senate Majority Leader. The result is that Frist appears somewhat out of touch with the Senate he leads -- not a terribly inaccurate picture, given what we've seen so far this session:

With lawmakers returning from the Memorial Day recess, the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, faces a crucial test of whether he can re-establish his authority after a rapid sequence of events that many say diminished his standing and exposed a lack of experience in Congressional intrigue.

Adversaries, independent analysts and even some allies say the Senate leader was wounded by a compromise on judicial nominees achieved last month by a handful of Republicans who bucked him, including Senator John McCain, a potential presidential rival in 2008. The damage to his image was made worse, they say, when Democrats blocked another important White House nominee just a few days after the judicial agreement.

"It is recognized that this gang of seven has weakened him," said Paul M. Weyrich, a veteran conservative activist and Frist supporter, referring to the Republicans who circumvented the majority leader to avert a potentially explosive showdown on prohibiting filibusters against judicial nominees.

As he darted between appearances at a Nascar race and the Harvard Medical School over the Memorial Day recess, Dr. Frist acknowledged the criticism aimed his way in the aftermath of the judicial pact and the filibuster against John R. Bolton, the nominee to be ambassador to the United Nations.

But in an interview, he said he believed his stewardship would be vindicated in the days ahead once he shepherded through a string of legislation and judicial nominees.

The photo of Frist used by the Times came from that NASCAR appearance, which shows Frist waving the green flag. The caption makes reference to the fact that the flag isn't white, a reference to Frist's refusal to surrender.

However, that's not been the experience that the GOP have had with Frist since he took over from Trent Lott, and especially in this session of Congress. Rather than wave the green flag, Frist has too often appeared to wave the caution flag, even when no obstacles have been in the road. His excessive caution has created the political debacle of the current state of judicial confirmations; he allowed the media enough time to paint filibusters as the normal reaction to presidential appointments despite their use once in 214 years for such an occasion.

Frist gets some support in statements from Mike DeWine, who claims that Frist's push on nominations made the Gang of 14 compromise possible -- hardly high praise, considering the immediate filibuster on John Bolton that followed. Others opine that Frist hasn't shown the ability to lead his caucus and instead pinballs between events:

While some Senate Republicans say Dr. Frist should have moved faster on the filibuster issue, senior lawmakers like Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Finance Committee, say Dr. Frist has the confidence of his colleagues and is showing an important attribute of leadership: sticking to his guns despite a setback. ...

"Clearly, McCain bettered him," said Marshall Wittmann, a former aide to Mr. McCain who is now with the Democratic Leadership Council. ...

Democrats say that if Dr. Frist has problems, they are of his own making. They saw his push against the filibuster as part of a calculated effort to deepen his appeal to conservatives in anticipation of a possible White House run and said his uncertain handling of the fight reflected his own unease with the idea.

"His presidential ambitions are pushing him to do things he is uncomfortable with," said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York.

Frist argues that his vindication will come when Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor get their confirmations and he starts getting the legislative agenda through the Senate. But that's hardly vindication; that's simply meeting the standard set by the Seven Dwarves that undercut his leadership. If Frist cannot get up-or-down votes on all judicial nominees that come out of committee, then his vindication will completely elude him. If the Senate cannot come up with some workable plan on Social Security that includes private ownership options for a portion of payments -- an option that Congress already enjoys -- then his vindication will elude him. The GOP did not turn out in record numbers to give Frist a mandate to pork up a highway bill and reform bankruptcy legislation, nor did they contribute in record numbers to Senate campaigns to get 3 out of 16 judicial confirmations Senate floor votes.

Frist says he doesn't define his career in terms of re-election to his post as Senate Majority Leader. The GOP caucus should take him at his word and find someone else who can lead Republicans by keeping their word on priorities.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 5, 2005 9:47 AM

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