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Transcript: Senate Majority Leader Frist on 'FNS'

The following is a transcript from "FOX News Sunday" on Dec. 11, 2005:

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: We are joined now in an exclusive interview by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Senator, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER BILL FRIST, R-TENN.: Chris, good to be with you. Thank you.

WALLACE: The Republican National Committee put an ad on the Internet this week that accuses Democrats of having a retreat and defeat policy on Iraq and features the white flag of surrender. Let's take a brief look at it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: The idea that we're going to win this war is an idea that, unfortunately, is just plain wrong.

U.S. SEN. BARBARA BOXER, D-CALIF.: So there's no specific timeframe, but I would say the withdrawal ought to start now right after the elections.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: The DNC fired back that Republicans are more interested in attacking Democrats than they are terrorists. Are some of these attacks by Republicans over the line?

FRIST: Chris, I think what is over the line right now is either side — and I'll have to look at Howard Dean's comments this week, but either side basically using partisan political purposes at a time that our troops are in war, and that really does become shameful, I think, and irresponsible, and I think potentially dangerous to our homeland security here, security around the world.

I think the fact that for the first time at least in my memory that we have a leader of a party, the Democratic Party, coming out and saying, at a time we're at war, with our troops — as that ad said, with our troops watching, with terrorists watching, that we cannot win, that we will be defeated, that we cannot be victorious, is absolutely irresponsible and dangerous to the security of this country.

WALLACE: Now, later in the week he said we can win, we have to win. Does that make any difference?

FRIST: Well, I don't know. And I think the good thing about the ad that you just showed — it's using the actual words, the words of the Democratic nominee, who are basically saying that our troops are acting as terrorists as they go into Iraq.

WALLACE: This is John Kerry in the ad.

FRIST: This is John Kerry in that ad. And the good thing about the ad — it uses the Democrats' words. And when you say this defeat and retreat thing, which is real, cut and run, and when you say that we can't win, and yes, you can try to cover up for it, and when you say our troops are terrorists, it is dangerous. It is wrong.

We are at war. And we're talking about the safety an security of you, your children, all of your listeners today. We've got to win this war. We will win this war. There is no question in my mind.

WALLACE: Let me ask you about a little different aspect of this. You are trying to pass a defense spending bill this week and send it on to the president. Senator McCain has added an amendment that would ban cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of all prisoners being held by the U.S.

Now, this passed the Senate 90-9. You voted for the amendment. Vice President Cheney opposes it. Will there be a deal?

FRIST: First thing, the amendment is a very important amendment. It did two things. It said for our troops and others who are doing interrogations, these are the rules of the road, and that's been apparently very unclear in the past, and now that's going to be written in this field manual.

Secondly, the United States does not torture. The United States does not torture. Our commander in chief, the president, has said it is our policy not to torture. We do not torture. We do not use cruel, degrading and inhumane treatment today. We don't today. The commander in chief has told us we don't.

Now, what I did — and I did vote for the amendment, but I also said five minutes before the vote on the floor of the United States Senate that I want to make absolutely sure that when we're talking about terrorists — not prisoners of war, but actual terrorists — that we had the full range of legal ability to get as much information as we possibly can when those terrorists have vowed to take out your family, to take down the United States of America.

And since that particular vote, a lot of question has been raised — are we handcuffing our interrogators, who are not using torture and are not using cruel and degrading treatment of these prisoners — are we in some way jeopardizing their ability to get information that will save our lives? The question has been raised.

WALLACE: Is there going to be a deal or not between McCain and the White House?

FRIST: I think that there will be — you say a deal. I think there will be clarification of what we mean. How aggressive can one be to get information — not torture, but — you know, what does degrading mean? Do you not want to degrade a terrorist — not hurt them, but degrade them — if they're going to take out your family, if they're going to assassinate you?

That's the question that's being worked out. So I think an agreement will be reached and we will come to some understanding which will allow us, in ways consistent with our values, that is legal, to get the appropriate information to protect us.

WALLACE: You issued a strong warning this week that a severe outbreak of avian flu could infect 90 million Americans and kill two million Americans. As a doctor and as a public health professional, what do you think are the realistic chances that we could have a pandemic in this country and over what time frame?

FRIST: Well, we know that we are going to have a pandemic in the future, and the near future, if we look at the last 2,000 years of history. We don't know how bad that pandemic will be.

The report that I released last week by the Congressional Budget Office confirms what our scientists and our public health officials have been saying. It's exactly as you said. Two million people could die. Uniquely, one million people out of the productive workforce. That would cost $675 billion to our economy. Huge. That's more than the typical average recession since World War II.

The real question is, A, is it going to happen. Nobody can answer that. It could happen tomorrow. And in six weeks, the HIV/AIDS virus has killed 23 million people. In six weeks, this virus worldwide, in six weeks, could kill that many people in six weeks, and we're not prepared.

Now, is it going to happen? I don't think it's going to happen right now or tomorrow, but if it does happen, it's devastating. Thus, we need to be prepared, and next week I'm very hopeful that we invest $7.1 billion to look at prevention, to look at care, to look at treatment, to help develop a manufacturing basis that we will be...

WALLACE: Let me ask you about that, because I know you've asked for it. The White House just yesterday said they want this $7 billion for emergency preparedness. Will it pass before you go home?

FRIST: It had better pass. I mean, what I just said is if from Vietnam — remember, this virus has a 50 percent mortality, five zero percent. The one in 1918 only had a 2.5 percent. If this virus becomes transmissible, arrives by airplane from Vietnam or from East Asia — it's killed half of all people infected so far — comes to this country, we are not prepared today. So we have to invest that money in stockpiling antiviral agents, building vaccine stockpiling, and rebuilding our manufacturing base.

WALLACE: Before Congress goes home, you also have to negotiate with the House on tax and spending bills. The House just passed spending cuts of $50 billion in such areas as Medicaid, food stamps and enforcement of child support.

Meanwhile, they passed $95 billion in tax cuts, including extending lower rates for dividends and capital gains. Question, how much of that will the Senate accept?

FRIST: Well, a little bit of correction. On the tax, both the House and the Senate have passed about a $60 billion tax prevention or tax increase prevention. We want to extend the tax cuts that are out there. So we're talking about not raising taxes.

On the spending side, what's important about that is that we're looking at these uncontrollable spending of entitlements that is going on today. Yes, we're looking at Medicare, and you're looking at Medicaid, not cutting, but slowing the growth from about 7.2 percent down to 7.1 percent. That's not really a cut. That's slowing the growth.

Your question, what will we get done? I'm hopeful before we leave that we'll pass that spending reduction, cutting that growth and spending reduction reconciliation package, this week. I hope that the tax packages — both the House and the Senate will go to conference and possibly get it done before we go, but in all likelihood it will be soon after we get back in late January or February.

WALLACE: And what about drilling for oil in Alaska, which you passed but the House hasn't passed?

FRIST: Well, there are lots of little differences back and forth. That happens to be a big difference. And I predict that we will be able to explore in Alaska to increase the amount of oil coming into this country at a time we are dangerously dependent, 60 percent dependent, on oil from other countries. Many of the countries are actually countries where terrorists are being bred today.

WALLACE: All right. Here's a yes or no question. This is an easy one. If, and I repeat if, Democrats decide to filibuster the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, will you move to impose the nuclear option to change the Senate's rules and make it easier to cut off a filibuster?

FRIST: Yes. I mean, really, it's pretty straightforward that Sam Alito, who has modest judicial temperament, who has written opinions in 200 cases to 300 cases, who's been involved in 3,000 cases, who's been confirmed by the United States Senate twice already, is somebody who deserves — vote how you want — I'll tell you how I'd like to vote, but vote how you want, but that deserves advice and consent by the Senate, meaning an up or down vote.

So I think it would be unconscionable — I think it would be wrong — I think it would be against the intent of the founding fathers and our Constitution to deny Sam Alito an up or down vote on the floor of the United States Senate.

I have stood from day one on principle that these Supreme Court justices — nominees deserve an up or down vote, and it would be absolutely wrong to deny him that. And that's what the constitutional option is. You used the words nuclear option, and that — you can use that...

WALLACE: We have a flair for the dramatic.

FRIST: That's exactly right.

WALLACE: All right.

FRIST: The answer is yes.

WALLACE: Senator, let's turn to a personal matter. The SEC is investigating your decision last June to sell your stock, millions of dollars of your stock, in the HCA hospital chain that's run by your family. Have you testified before authorities?

FRIST: Well, a couple of things. First of all, it's not run by my family. And how much stock it is we'll have to wait and see. And in terms of the inquiry itself, just so you'll know, I have participated fully.

I acted appropriately throughout. My intention for getting rid of this last remainder of this stock is to make sure there is absolutely no appearance whatsoever of a conflict of interest. I acted appropriately throughout. I know what the outcome will be.

WALLACE: Well, let me ask you a direct question. Have you testified before authorities?

FRIST: I answered that. I answered that. No. But I've provided all information that has been requested and will be happy to do so. The quicker this is over with, the better. To me it is very clear in terms that I could appropriately — and that's sort of where we are today.

WALLACE: Have they asked you to testify?

FRIST: I really don't want to comment on the specifics of it. But obviously, I am cooperating fully and am anxious to provide all information, which I've been doing throughout.

WALLACE: But the investigation is still going on.

FRIST: The inquiry is under way, and they — all information has been provided. And the outcome I'm absolutely confident of, and a lot of the things that you suggested about when things had been instructed, been sold, that time line, which is very clear in my mind, and documents show, is different than you implied as well.

WALLACE: Well, no, I didn't say anything about the timeline. But let me ask you about this, because I think here's what troubles some people. Over the years, because this has been an issue, your family — I don't whether it runs it, but your family certainly was involved in starting HCA.

FRIST: Right. Right.

WALLACE: You said you didn't know whether you had HCA stock in your blind trust. You also said over the years repeatedly that it wasn't a conflict of interest.

And I think what troubles some people is that some time in the course of this year that you asked your blind trust to sell stock that allegedly you didn't know you had because of a perceived or a possible conflict of interest that you said didn't exist.

FRIST: It's really clear. That may be what confuses people. So let me clarify it. I don't know at any time how much stock one has, whether it is this much, which I started with, but hopefully over time, through diversification, over the last 15 years of my life, it's down to very little.

WALLACE: But how do you know...

FRIST: You don't know...

WALLACE: ... there was any stock if it's a blind trust?

FRIST: Oh, you don't know how much. The ethics regulations and the rules say if it gets down to less than $1,000, they have to notify you. So if I started with this much, I didn't know if I had $1,000, or $3,000, or $5,000 or $10,000. You just don't know how much.

And secondly, why did I set up a blind trust? I was kind of going above and beyond the call of the duty, the rules of the Senate. The Ethics Committee in the Senate said there is absolutely no reason for you to set up a blind trust, so I thought I would sort of raise the bar, and I'd, you know, raise the standards for everybody, I'd set up a blind trust.

And it's been good, because for the last 10 years or 11 years, I have no idea, no earthly idea, at any point in time how much stock of anything, not just that particular stock, but all of the stocks that I've owned in the past, and that's good, because I'm able to put it aside and not worry about it.

But you're right, the fact that they hadn't sent me a letter that you have less than $1,000 — I knew I didn't want to have this much, this much, this much, this much, or this much. I knew I wanted to be out of it totally just because of the appearance. Any time, because I'm a doctor...

WALLACE: But you'd said over and over there was no conflict.

FRIST: I didn't say over and over. Basically, if you read what I said, I said I don't know. It is a blind trust. I don't make those decisions. I don't know what specific transactions are done or not done because it's a blind trust. I don't know if it's $1,000 or more than that. I don't know how much. That's why it's a blind trust.

WALLACE: Senator Frist, we're going to have to leave it there. We want to thank you so much for coming in. Please come back.

FRIST: Good to be with you. Thank you.