Leader Will Not ‘Desert’ Thune

Posted June 18, 2004 at 6:38pm

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) defended his decision to campaign against Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) this year, and accused his Democratic critics Friday of putting partisan politics above the business of legislating.

Describing politics as “a battle of ideas,” Frist said it is his responsibility as Majority Leader to try to help elect GOP candidates to the Senate, including former Rep. John Thune (R-S.D.), whom he personally recruited to run against Sen. Tim Johnson (D) in 2000.

“It is surprising to me that people would say, ‘Desert somebody you recruited to run for a position … who you have invested your time in,’” Frist told reporters at a briefing hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.

In addition to helping raise money for Thune’s challenge to Daschle, Frist also traveled to South Dakota in May to campaign for the former Republican Representative. Echoing a theme he has sounded since that campaign swing, Frist said the South Dakota race in particular “could determine the future direction of the country.”

“I am the Republican Leader of the political entity known as the Republicans of the United States Senate,” he said. “A closely divided Senate. One vote makes a difference.”

It is this one vote, Frist suggested, that could help overcome the “unprecedented obstruction by the other side of the aisle on a whole range of issues, whether it is welfare, energy, class action, medical liability or judges.”

“I can’t tolerate it,” said Frist, who vowed to continue campaigning on behalf of the Republican candidates, including Thune.

Frist also dismissed the notion that his decision to campaign directly against Daschle had adversely affected their working relationship.

A spokesman for Daschle likewise brushed aside the idea that a rift has developed between the two leaders as a result of Frist’s campaign activity.

“Senator Daschle remains the magnanimous leader he has always been and continues to work with members of both parties for the good of the American people,” the spokesman said.

In addition to his comments about Daschle, Frist addressed the recent evacuation of the Capitol as well the upcoming vote on a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage.

While Frist graded the evacuation of the Capitol, which was prompted by an unidentified aircraft thought to be hijacked and headed for the Capitol, as “pretty good,” he acknowledged the defense measures put in place after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are not yet foolproof.

“It is not where it needs to be,” Frist said. “The other day we had an airplane 2 minutes and 38 seconds out from getting to the Capitol.”

Still, Frist cautioned it is a “new era,” and noted that officials are continually improving the defenses of the nation’s capital.

“I am very comfortable,” he said. “I have no fear for my life at all, day in and day out.”

Frist said he decided to bring the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage up for a vote in July because the longer Congress defers action and the more and more gay marriages take place, “the harder it is going to be, I think, to address it.”

“The national dialogue will reach new heights when I take it to the floor of the United States Senate,” Frist predicted. “I don’t know what the votes will be, but given the trend I think now is the time to have that dialogue, to have full debate, full amendments and the best of our legislative process.”

At the very least, Frist said Senators will “have a vote where people will be able to take a stand and won’t be able to sort of waffle back and forth.”

“I let them know a month in advance so people can start to really [begin] thinking about it and reading and talking and discussing” the issue, Frist said.