Transcript: Bill Frist on 'FOX News Sunday'

The following is a transcribed excerpt from FOX News Sunday, Dec. 14, 2003.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, FOX NEWS SUNDAY Joining us now on this very busy morning, the Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

Senator, thanks so much for coming in today.

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER BILL FRIST: Great to be with you this morning.

WALLACE: I understand that you spoke about an hour ago with the president.

FRIST: I did.

WALLACE: Tell us about your conversation.

FRIST: Well, I talked to the president a little over an hour ago after being notified early this morning by the Pentagon of really an almost enchanting day for the Iraqi people. And in truth, that's what the president said.

He said really pretty much on this order: This shows how our troops are, indeed, accomplishing the objective itself. It shows that the coalition is working together and meeting its mission.

And then he turned very quickly to the Iraqi people. What an enchanting day, a day of relief this is for the Iraqi people, the Iraqi people who have suffered so long two decades; 300,000 mass graves in that part of the world; two wars against the United States of America.

All of a sudden this huge burden, this oppressive burden, today in the last several hours has been relieved from the minds of the Iraqi people.

WALLACE: On just a more human level, he's been going after this guy for so long, he has such feelings about him. To see those pictures today, what did he say?

FRIST: Well, it is a day of relief for him and a happy day.

He was very quick, though, to say that this will be a major step, a major step in this battle, but there's still a lot more work to be done.

Clearly, in the back of his mind, although we didn't talk specifically about this, he has waited for this particular day. He realizes, as the American people realize, that once you take down the man who killed those 300,000 people, the man who used those chemical weapons to scores of thousands of people, this mass murderer, you are going to give a great sense of relief to, yes, the Iraqi people first and foremost, but also to our troops, to our men and women who are there, who are putting their lives on the line every day for freedom and democracy.

This is a major, major step, a remarkable day for the world.

WALLACE: Did he make any mention of the way they captured Saddam Hussein, dragging him out of this hole in the ground, or of these pictures of him looking like a disheveled criminal on a line-up?

FRIST: Well, you know, we didn't talk specifically about that, but your words are exactly right. It wasn't him just in a back room in a house. This man was in a hole.

We've all seen the pictures over the course of the morning of the way that he looks, that he was disheveled and the long hair, the tongue depressor going into the mouth. You get the feel that this is a man who has been sheltered, who had really no future, but now it is punctuated: He is gone. He's out of the picture.

And that freedom and that democracy, the reasons that we are in that country in the first place, are being realized and now being realized not just in a symbolic way, but in a tangible way, that the Iraqi people, every man and woman and child in Iraq is going to feel this, what happened today.

WALLACE: Let's switch from the impact it's going to have on the Iraqi population in general to the question of: What effect do you think it has on the dead-enders, the people who were part of the Saddam regime and may feel they have nothing to lose, on the fighters who have come across from Syria and Iran? What effect do you think it has on the continued resistance to the U.S. forces there?

FRIST: In terms of the opposition, it destroys their hope, it destroys their dream, it destroys their reason for being. And when you take that away, that motivation away, it can't help but to be good for the Iraqi people, for our troops, indeed for the United States and for the world, for the entire coalition there itself.

Nobody can predict what will happen in the next several weeks. I think Ambassador Bremer really caught it very well this morning in his comments at the press conference when he said this is a time of reconciliation. It's a time when many people who have been angry, who have been under the aura or under the spell of this man, Saddam Hussein, whether it's outsiders or resistance forces within the country itself, all of a sudden they're going to be able to step back and say, I need to reexamine.

And with that, that period of reconciliation -- I think it's a perfect word that Bremer used this morning.

WALLACE: I was struck by that as well, him calling for members of the former regime to reconcile, to come forward to build a new Iraq.

Question: What do you think are the chances that that will happen? And is there anything that the U.S. can do to try to make it happen?

FRIST: Well, I think we can't predict. I think we have to be very, very careful.

I am optimistic. The president is optimistic. The president is happy. At the same time, very somber, because we realize that this is a major step, but there is a lot to be done.

I had the opportunity this morning also to talk to Condi Rice, and she reflected the same, that this is a major, major step, probably the most dramatic, the single most dramatic step in this war to date.

But we still have the security, we still have the rebuilding, we still have bringing up that infrastructure, and we still will have resistance, as we go forward.

So I think, although all of us are very optimistic, we have to be very careful in what we predict what's going to happen over the next several days.

WALLACE: Senator, what do you think should happen to Saddam Hussein? Should he be tried in Iraq by Iraqis? Should he be brought to the U.S.? Should he go to some international world court? What should happen?

FRIST: Well, you know, I'm just not in a position, really, to predict and to know really what is most appropriate.

I think -- you know, I, for one, am very glad that he is alive. I know a lot of people and a lot of the commentators have mentioned this morning, you know, it really would have been better if he had been killed or if he had died. I say no.

I think that he needs to be before the people of the world and be held accountable for those 300,000 mass graves that we've uncovered in the last several months; be held accountable for the more than 60,000 people who have been poisoned with chemical weapons, with weapons of mass destruction, over the two decades.

And I think that that does send a strong signal, to handle it in a very fair and equitable way, that sends a strong signal to anybody who is even contemplating participating in a war like this war with terrorism.

WALLACE: You know, even on a day of such momentous news as this, obviously we are in the beginning of a presidential campaign, politics is still out there. To varying degrees, all of the Democratic presidential candidates have made one of their main cases their criticism of the president's conduct of the war on Iraq. What happens to that now?

FRIST: Well, I'm sure they'll reposition. It is a political season. I think that each of the candidates have positioned themselves in different ways, and they will just have to reposition as they go forward.

Most of the American people, I believe, cut through that and will look upon today as a day of relief, relief for the Iraqi people, for our men and women who are over there, especially at this time of thanksgiving and holiday celebration. They're fighting for us and putting their own lives on the line for us.

I would hope that the people who would like President Bush's position, the Democratic candidates, the people who are running, will take a step back, put the partisanship aside, put the politics aside, and recognize that this is a remarkable, as I said, an enchanting day for the people of the world, the Iraqi people and the American people.

WALLACE: When you say, "put the partisanship aside," how long do you expect the ceasefire to last?

FRIST: Well, I don't know. It's the political season. So over the next year, it's going to be a lot of politics and policy.

I will say, in talking to the president this morning, he made it very clear, in his own mind, that politics has nothing, nothing, nothing to do with today, nor should it have anything to do with today, that today is a celebration for the Iraqi people.

WALLACE: When you say "reposition," what do Democratic candidates who have been critical of Iraq do? I mean, do you think that that issue has just gone off the table?

FRIST: No, I'm sure that they'll adjust and readjust. Politicians are pretty smart. They'll go out and try to pick another issue. They'll look at any incident that happens in the next week and maybe even diminish the capture of Saddam Hussein.

You know, there could be a flurry of activity of a reaction. Nobody can predict what's going to happen over the next month, so there'll be plenty of fodder for them to go after.

But I think -- and the president mentioned this today, he said, this shows that we are getting intelligence. It shows our capacity to act on this intelligence. It shows that we have a mission and that mission is being accomplished; that people do need to be patient in the sense of thinking in terms of days and weeks and not just hours and seconds.

And that continued, steady progress is reflected, I think, by the determination of the president of the United States, the way he has acted from the very first day of this battle and in this war and now in this capture. And I project that we will see that over the coming months until we bring a final resolution to the story in Iraq.

WALLACE: You call it an enchanting day. Senator Bill Frist, thank you so much for sharing part of it with us.

FRIST: Great to be with you.

WALLACE: Appreciate it.

FRIST: Thank you.