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December 22, 2005
Frist Grip Slips

The debacle that occurred yesterday in the Senate for the GOP despite a ten-seat advantage demonstrates a continuing and apparently worsening leadership vacuum for the Republican caucus. Majority Leader Bill Frist once again failed to deliver on two key legislative issues for the White House -- ANWR drilling and the permanent extension of the PATRIOT Act -- and required the Vice President to cut off a diplomatic trip overseas to rescue a third objective of budget cuts for at least a show of some fiscal sanity. As the Boston Globe notes today, either Frist cannot whip the fractious caucus into line or has poor vote-counting skills, but either way he has performed poorly in his role as shepherd to the legislative agenda of the GOP:

Senate majority leader Bill Frist, heading a 55-to-45 Republican majority, might have expected to deliver a pile of legislative gifts this month to the White House, which had hoped to end the year with $40 billion in budget cuts, approval to drill for oil in an Alaskan wildlife refuge, and the full extension of the Patriot Act giving expanded powers to law enforcement.

But Frist, a Tennessee Republican with his eye on the White House, found his party in a pre-Christmas dogfight yesterday, with GOP lawmakers joining united Democrats in a series of embarrassing setbacks for President Bush and the Republican agenda. ...

Republicans attributed some of their party's defections to the politics of a looming election year and the willingness of moderate Republican senators from New England to defy the president.

But others say that Frist, balancing his presidential ambitions with the task of running the Senate, is not doing what's needed to keep his caucus together.

Trent Lott, definitely not an uninterested party in discussions about leadership, notes that Frist doesn't crack heads like this particular caucus appears to require. Frist himself confirms that fact with a quote picked up by the Globe's Susan Milligan:

Frist and his supporters attributed the legislative losses and delays to ''obstructionist" Democrats and a few unruly Republicans. "I think it's childish," Frist said of the efforts to stop the budget cuts. ''You'll have to ask individuals who voted against that, both on the Republican and the Democrat side," why they tried to thwart the president's priorities, he said.

No, Senator, you need to ask the Republicans why they voted against it -- that's your job. A real caucus leader would already have known how and why their members would vote and would have held back on calling the question until everyone had gotten back in line. Harry Reid doesn't have too many problems with bloc unity, and he can't offer committee chairmanships and votes on pet causes like Frist can. Lawyers tell you that they shouldn't ask questions during testimony for which they don't already know the answer; doctors shouldn't start surgery unless they know where the abnormality is located. It's called preparation, and we're not seeing a lot of it from the Republican leadership in the Senate.

It's apparent that Frist wants to run for president in 2008, and he wants to run on the Nice Guy Platform. That might work well in peacetime, but not when the nation is at war and issues like PATRIOT and ANWR hold so much strategic significance. The disarray that has come from Frist's leadership of the largest Republican majority in the Senate for at least two generations demonstrates his lack of credentials for both his current job and the one he wants next. The White House had better start pushing for a change if it wants to see its legislative agenda have a chance in 2006, because Frist's willpower will hardly improve under the pressure of midterm elections.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 22, 2005 7:03 AM

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