WASHINGTON – Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., is the Senate majority leader, to replacing Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., int he position for the 108th Congress.
The only practicing physician in Congress, Frist — a heart-lung transplant surgeon — was elected to his second term in the Senate in 2000 by the largest margin ever received by a candidate for statewide election in the history of Tennessee. Frist is a fourth generation Tennessee resident whose great, great grandfather was one of Chattanooga's 53 original settlers.
He has strong support from the White House, who was pleased with his work as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, where he is credited with helping engineer the GOP takeover of the Senate in last month's elections.
He was among those Bush considered as a running mate in his 2000 presidential campaign, and has been a leading GOP voice on prescription drugs and other health care issues while serving on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. He is ranking member of the Subcommittee on Public Health.
Frist also serves on the Budget and Foreign Relations committees, and is ranking member of the latter's Subcommittee on African Affairs.
In 1999, he was named a deputy whip of the Senate. In 2001, Frist was named one of two congressional representatives to the United Nations General Assembly.
Frist basked in the national spotlight during the anthrax investigations after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
After Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle had a letter laced with anthrax sent to him, Frist became a key manager of Capitol Hill's anthrax scare, explaining the public health consequences to worried lawmakers and members of the public.
Frist also became Congress' face on issues such as bioterror threats. He was instrumental in the Congress' passage of a national bioterror bill, which President Bush signed into law in June.
Frist called the measure a "strong bill" and said it was critical that Congress "renew our local, state and national public health systems to work in a more coordinated way."
Frist also made news recently when he encouraged Bush to offer the smallpox vaccine to all Americans. He argued that people should be allowed to weigh the risks and decide for themselves whether to be vaccinated.
"It's the right step to protect the American people and it's the right step to make our nation less vulnerable to those who would use smallpox to terrorize our citizens," Frist said. "This is a difficult decision, but it is the right decision."
He supported the inclusion of complete liability protection against smallpox vaccine manufacturers and distributors — including hospitals and nursing homes — in the homeland security bill.
Frist also helped lead the GOP's charge before this year's midterm election to try to keep former Sen. Frank Lautenberg's name off the New Jersey Senate ballot as a replacement for Robert Torricelli.
As head of the NRSC, Frist delivered his side's papers personally to the court in October in arguing that the New Jersey Supreme Court erred when it ruled 7-0 that election law should be broadly interpreted to "allow parties to put their candidates on the ballot, and most importantly, to allow the voters a choice."
"It is clear that the New Jersey Supreme Court overstepped their authority, overriding the will of the people," Frist said after delivering the paperwork. "The change and switch on the ballot is illegal."
In June of this year, Frist joined Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., in introducing a broad bill proposing to spend $500 million on prevention and treatment in 2003-2004 in unspecified countries threatened by AIDS epidemics.
And in the controversial debate over cloning earlier this year, Frist made headlines when he said he would support a bill putting a total ban on human cloning that would outlaw the duplication of human beings and of cells that could be used for research and treatment of diseases.
"Many are overpromising on the science" benefits that are possible from cloning, Frist told reporters. He also said creating a human embryo "for reason of experimentation leads to destruction of that embryo and to me that is morally unacceptable."
And shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Frist pushed for making sure the federal government averted any future bioterror threats by strengthening the safety of the nation's food supply.
Born and raised in Nashville, Frist graduated in 1974 from Princeton University where he specialized in health care policy. In 1978, he graduated with honors from Harvard Medical School and spent the next several years in surgical training at Massachusetts General Hospital; Southampton General Hospital, Southampton, England; and Stanford University Medical Center. He is board certified in both general surgery and heart surgery.
In 1985, Frist joined the teaching faculty at Vanderbilt University Medical Center where he founded and subsequently directed the multi-disciplinary Vanderbilt Transplant Center.
Senator Frist and his wife, Karyn, have three sons: Harrison, Jonathan, and Bryan.