Politics & Policy

Dr. Frist’S Operation

How the Senate majority leader played a game of filibuster chicken.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the June 20th, 2005, issue of National Review.

On the morning after a group of 14 senators made a deal to end the standoff over Democratic filibusters of Bush judicial nominees, Senate majority leader Bill Frist found himself taking flak from all sides. Depending on who was speaking, Frist had wimped out, was unable to control his troops, or could not muster the support to trigger the “nuclear option” to put an end to the filibuster problem entirely.

And that was just from conservatives. Other commentators said Frist had lost the leadership of the Senate to John McCain. Still others argued that he could not do his job while entertaining hopes of becoming the GOP presidential nominee in 2008. The Los Angeles Times suggested he resign.

All in all, it was a tough period for the majority leader. But did he really deserve all the criticism? Republicans came out of the filibuster showdown with six previously filibustered nominees headed for confirmation, and, perhaps more important, in a strong position ultimately to break all the Democratic judicial filibusters, should it come to that. And much of the credit for that, according to interviews with several people closely involved in the fight, belongs to Bill Frist. . . .

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