The following is a transcribed excerpt of "FOX News Sunday" for November 14, 2004.
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: Senate Republicans are gearing up for the new Congress, hopeful that their four-seat gain in the election will help push President Bush's second-term agenda.
Joining us now in a Sunday exclusive is the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist.
And, Senator, welcome. Good to have you with us.
U.S. SENATOR BILL FRIST, R-TN: Chris, good to be with you this morning.
WALLACE: Do you support making Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter the new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee?
FRIST: Chris, it's an issue that we'll begin to face really this week and we won't make final decisions on until early January.
First of all, as you know, the Senate is a remarkable institution and it has a system and a program and a plan by which you choose the chairman of various committees like the Judiciary Committee.
The way it works, real quickly, is that you choose the committee. The committee itself has not yet been chosen for the next Congress. They select the chairman. That chairman is taken to the entire conference, 55 Republicans, and they make an ultimate decision on that.
The whole process will begin this week.
Secondly, I think it's important to understand general feelings and what I'm hearing. Arlen made some statements the day after the election. They were disheartening to me. They were disheartening to a lot of different people. He made those not as chairman of the Judiciary Committee but he made those as an individual senator, and he has the right to make that.
Over the last week, he has taken the opportunity to explain to a lot of people what he meant and what he would do. He's not yet talked to individual senators one on one.
What he will do over the course of this week is meet with Senate leadership. He'll then meet with members of the existing Judiciary Committee to explain both what he meant and what he would do as chairman. And then ultimately the members of that committee will choose whether or not he serves as their chairman.
WALLACE: The senator, for people who may have missed this and have real lives, got in trouble for saying after the election that he thought that any judicial nominees who opposed abortion rights would have trouble getting approved by the Senate.
But since then, as you well know, he has said that he would promise as chairman to have prompt hearings for all judicial nominees and that all appellate nominees, he promises, would get to the Senate floor for a vote.
Is that enough, or is there something more you personally, as one senator with one vote, needs to hear from him?
FRIST: Well, Chris, what I want to hear — and I've talked to Arlen, and, again, he will talk face to face with the Senate leadership and members of the Judiciary Committee this week.
What I expect is for a chairman to understand that they are no longer responsible just to themselves or just to their constituents back at home but, as chairman of the committee, they're responsible to the feelings, the wishes, the beliefs, the values, the procedures that are held by the majority of that committee. That is, in this case, the Republican caucus on that committee, the Republican committee members.
Secondly, he has a clear obligation as a chairman to take what the president nominates, consult with the president, take that nomination, get that nomination through committee in an expeditious way, a fair way, a way that gives thoughtful consideration but doesn't spend too much time, gets that nomination to the floor of the United States Senate.
And very importantly, because in the last Congress, you know, it didn't happen for a whole set of other reasons that have got to change, that every one of these appellate nominees have an up-or-down vote. Our job is to give advice and consent. And in the past we've been denied that opportunity, that responsibility, that constitutional obligation. The chairman must make absolutely sure that we get that up-or-down vote in a timely fashion.
WALLACE: But wait a minute, let me just stop you right there.
FRIST: Let me go one step further, because it really answer your question.
I would expect Chairman Specter to go one step further — if it's Chairman Specter, whoever that chairman is — and that is to have a strong predisposition to supporting that nominee sent over by President Bush, a Republican president, to a Republican Judiciary Committee, with adequate debate and discussion, but take that candidate all the way to the floor and to have a strong predisposition of supporting that candidate, including on the floor of the United States Senate.
WALLACE: There's a lot there. Several things.
First of all, how does the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman ensure — because we're talking and I was going to get into that with you in a minute, the filibuster — how does he ensure that there's an up-or-down vote?
FRIST: Well, he just has to do everything within his power. You're exactly right.
In fact, we had Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and he did everything within his power. Unfortunately, we had an almost — I would call it a tyranny of the minority in the last Congress, where we had not just one judicial nominee at the appellate level or two or three or five or seven, but we had 10 of the nominees — almost one out of every three of the circuit court nominees from the president of the United States was stopped by a minority, all of whom had majority support in the United States Senate. Totally unacceptable.
You're right. The chairman can't absolutely guarantee that but can fight for that and make sure that every, every one of these nominees gets an up-or-down vote on the floor of the Senate.
WALLACE: But it seems fair — and let's just go through a couple of checklist points very briefly, if we can.
It seems clear that Senator Specter has not made a persuasive case to you yet.
FRIST: Not yet. But I've talked to Arlen, and he is talking to lots of different people now.
And, first of all, it's not my selection. It is the selection of the Judiciary Committee. I'm not on the Judiciary Committee, but as majority leader, obviously I'm involved in that.
So the case needs to be made to the leadership of the United States Senate, which he will do — we're going to be meeting on Tuesday morning — and also to the existing members of the Judiciary Committee.
But the ultimate decision will not be made until the final composition of that Judiciary Committee is chosen in about two or three weeks.
WALLACE: OK, let's move on to this question of filibusters, because it seems like the whole issue of judicial nominees is going to be one of the most explosive issues in this new Congress.
You gave a tough speech this week in which you compared — you termed the filibuster of these 10 Bush nominees as the tyranny of the minority. But some conservatives were disappointed that you didn't say how you plan to stop it.
So, specifically, right here, right now, what are you going to do?
FRIST: Yes, I've got three or you could even say four different options, and I'm not about to say right now what I'm going to do.
I think the important thing for the American people is to understand that never in over 200 years of Senate history has a minority, using a procedural tool, the filibuster, denied the majority the opportunity of giving advice and consent. And that's our only responsibility.
It's the president of the United States who makes these appointments. Our constitutional responsibility is to advise and consent. The only way we can do that is vote yes or vote no. But just allow us to vote.
For the first time in the last Congress — and I think that played out in some of these Senate elections with their outcomes — for the first time, that 200 years of history was thrown away.
Let me say it again, it's the first time in over 200 years that candidates who have majority support, more than 50 votes, are denied an up-or-down vote on the floor of the United States Senate. It's intolerable.
There are all sorts of options that we can do.
WALLACE: Well, let me ask you about one of them, because some Republicans are talking about what they call the nuclear option, and that would be a ruling that the filibuster of executive nominees is unconstitutional, which would require not 60 or 67 votes but only a simple majority of 51.
FRIST: Yes. That's right.
WALLACE: Are you prepared to do that?
FRIST: Oh, it's clearly one of the options. I've always said it's one of the options.
What it basically — it's called the nuclear option. It's really a constitutional option. And what that means is that the Constitution says you, as a Senate, give advice and consent, and that is a majority vote. And then you vote on that, and that takes 50 votes to pass.
And I think it clearly becomes a viable, viable option if we see a minority denying the majority the opportunity to express advice and consent.
WALLACE: I know you're not going to lay out all your options here, but are you prepared to say right now to the conservatives who were concerned about your speech this last week, "I promise you we are not going to allow those filibusters to block the president's nominees"?
FRIST: I'm going to do everything within my power as majority leader, with a full choice of — a full toolbox, a full armamentarium, which includes this constitutional option.
But I would appeal to 200 years of Senate precedent and Senate history, which has worked very well up until the last Congress, which would eliminate this, as you said, tyranny of the minority.
WALLACE: Well, I didn't say it. You said it.
FRIST: No, but quoting my words, because that's exactly what it is.
FRIST: And that's exactly why in the speech I called it a tyranny by the minority, refusing to give the United States Senate its constitutional opportunity to vote up or down. It's absurd.
WALLACE: Let's move on. The president has laid out a very ambitious agenda for his second term: tax reform, Social Security reform, limiting some of these lawsuits and malpractice awards.
Have you thought about how you're going to approach this and the order in which you'd like to bring these up?
FRIST: No, but the president's laid out a clear agenda in the campaign. We'll wait for the State of the Union. We'll work with him between now and then to see exactly what his priorities are.
But we know that the war on terror is going to be first and foremost.
We know that tax simplification and fairness is going to be a huge focus.
We know that Social Security is an issue that has to be addressed if we look at our young people today because it won't be there in its current configuration.
We know that in — and, of course, continued focus on tax relief.
There are a whole range of issues that we've begun to address. Tort reform is a big issue. Medical liability the president's mentioned. We also have asbestos. We have bankruptcy. We have class action reform. We have medical liability.
All of which really can be summarized in we having so many unnecessary lawsuits. Lawsuit abuse is a shakedown of the American people. It's a shakedown of the American consumer today in all of these fields.
How we address these and in what order we have not yet decided, but each and every one of these must be addressed.
WALLACE: All right. Let's talk about another issue.
The White House says it also intends to push the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Now, in this past Congress, you were unable to get a simple majority, 51 votes, to cut off debate, let alone the 60 votes you really needed.
How hard are you going to push that in the new Congress?
FRIST: Well, marriage is an institution, for 5,000 years, that has been a critical aspect, I would argue, of our society today. And the protection of marriage as the union between a man and a woman is a huge priority for me. You've heard it's a huge priority for the president of the United States.
It's not necessarily a debate that we asked for, that anybody asked for, but the activist judges in Massachusetts redefined marriage, redefined marriage, and thus we felt strongly to take to the floor of the Senate.
We in the Senate, before the House, before others, really initiated the discussion at the national level. And I can just tell you, on our watch, anything that tries to tear apart — activist judges, judges acting against the Defense of Marriage Act, which was passed overwhelmingly in the mid-1990s, signed by President Clinton, bipartisan majority passing that bill — if activist judges start to tear it down, we're likely to bring it back to the floor quicker.
I will do everything within my power to continue to protect marriage as the union between a man and a woman.
WALLACE: We're beginning to run out of time, so I'm going to ask you for a brief response on this.
Now that the election is over, does the president's policy on stem-cell research need to be revisited?
FRIST: Well, first of all, the policy is based on this nexus, this intersection between advancing science and morality, which doesn't advance. And that is that the embryo is biologically human, that it is genetically distinct, and that it's living and therefore it deserves protection. It has moral significance. That doesn't change.
Science does change over time, and it advances. Thus it only makes sense that a legislative body, given appropriate oversight, time to time will come back and review that policy.
It's been three years since the president's initial policy, a policy that I agree with. It comes back to that value of the human embryo, that you're not going to destroy it for experimental purposes. But with that advancing science over time, clearly we'll come back and review that policy and the advancing science as it relates to the moral values which don't change.
WALLACE: Just about a little over a minute left. There's a lot of talk in this town about your future. Are you going to leave the Senate in two years when your term is up?
FRIST: In all likelihood, I will. I have not made a formal announcement. But for the last 12 years, last 11 years, I've said I intend to serve two terms in the United States Senate. And nothing has happened for me to alter that.
WALLACE: Are you going to run for president in four years?
FRIST: You know, it's a question that, because I'm majority leader and holding this position, people will keep asking.
Let me just say that two weeks before I was at the Republican Convention doing all the politics and cheering on the Republican Party and the president, I was in Africa and I did esophagectomy there, helped some surgeons take out an esophagus, helped save a man's life who had cancer.
And that 20 years I spent in medicine and those little windows that I get now in my medical mission work makes that profession mighty attractive, as well.
WALLACE: But you're not ruling out the possibility of running.
FRIST: I'm surviving now these next two years. I'll be leading the United States Senate. And after that, I have no idea.
WALLACE: And when you look in the mirror, do you see a potential president staring back at you?
FRIST: No, I don't. The truth, every morning, I get up, I see a physician. I really do. It is an interesting case. You know, people say, "Well you're majority leader now. You're leading the United States Senate. You've been here for 10 years." People forget that I grew up in a family of physicians. I spent 20 years every day getting up and looking at that mirror and seeing a heart surgeon, and that's something that I still see.
WALLACE: Well, then, you're the only politician in town who doesn't see a potential president.
Senator Frist, thank you. Thanks so much for coming in. And we look forward to talking to you again during the new session.
FRIST: Thank you, Chris.