October 8th, 2009
09:00 AM ET
5 years ago

Frist dishes on Lott, Schiavo and Kid Rock

Bill Frist is the former Senate Majority Leader.
Bill Frist is the former Senate Majority Leader.

(CNN) - Bill Frist and Trent Lott were once close – "close" being a relative term in politics – but that bond was broken in the cold days of December 2002 when Lott was forced step aside and allow Frist to become majority leader. Remember Lott's comments at Sen. Strom Thurmond's birthday party?

In his 2005 autobiography "Herding Cats," Lott recounted the struggle to keep his leadership post and described Frist's decision to seek it as"a personal betrayal."

Four years later, it's Frist's turn.

Trent Lott, Kid Rock, and even the late liberal lion of Massachusetts all make an appearance in former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's new book, which is chock full of nuggets that political insiders will feast upon - including his hindsight view of the Terri Schiavo case, one of the defining moments of his political career.

I am not going to detail all the highs and lows of "A Heart To Serve," but if you are a fan of political intrigue – specifically Senate intrigue – then read on....


· The White House did not come to Lott's defense in the wake of the Thurmond comments; in fact, President Bush rebuked Lott during a speech in Philadelphia. We will never know if White House intervention would have saved Lott's job. But Frist paints a vivid picture of how he perceived the relationship between Lott and Bush following the incident.

"Alex (Frist aide Alex Vogel) described a poignant moment when he first walked through the empty, vacated offices. There in the middle of the floor was a large trash can, full of discarded paper and personal effects. Sitting atop the bin was a huge framed painting of the White House, the glass shattered in dozens of pieces."

· Lott was at a family member's vacation home in Key West as the story about his remarks at Thurmond's birthday party began to gain momentum. Frist writes that he considered heading down to Florida with his wife

"...to demonstrate our support for Trent, but decided against it, thinking it would draw too much media attention."

· Frist writes that he sent a not-so-subtle message to Sen. Rick Santorum: If they ran against each other for the majority leader position, Frist would be the one claiming the conservative banner.

"A number of our fellow senators had suggested that he run, since he was reputed to have the strongest conservative voting record. But as we were talking, Ginny (Frist aide Ginny Wolfe) pulled out a voting scorecard analyzing every vote since 1994. To my surprise, it clearly showed that I actually voted more conservatively than Rick. 'Wait a minute, Rick,' I interrupted him. 'According to the rankings I'm looking at, you are the fourteenth-most-conservative senator, and I am number eight.' Rick chuckled, but my comment sent a message to him that I was doing my homework in a tough situation, and that I hadn't ruled anything in or out just yet."

· Frist also writes that Lott was a "very good leader" who he "admired … for coming back after his resignation amidst all the controversy." But Frist also critiques Lott's leadership style.

"Trent Lott was not a visionary sort of leader who comes up with innovative transforming ideas, but he relished the political maneuvering required of an effective leader and was outstanding at it. He was by nature not a risk taker; he hesitated taking legislation to the Senate floor unless he had the support to pass it. He knew how to count votes."

· Frist also expresses frustration with Lott for his attention-grabbing tendencies.

"Trent playfully continued to command attention, a trait that may trace back to his cheerleading days at Ole Miss." Lott would show up late to a weekly GOP meeting "flicking various senators' ears as he passed behind his seated colleagues, and finally sitting at the far side of the room. This was all in good fun but sometimes a little distracting to his Senate colleagues when they were in the middle of a presentation."

· Frist writes that Lott demonstrated to him that he was the "ultimate team player" after the Mississippi senator cast the crucial 60th vote needed to ensure a Medicare bill passed - even though Lott personally opposed the legislation.

"[H]e proved himself the ultimate team player, even if he might not like every single player on the team."

Every member being Bill Frist.

As for the liberal lion from Massachusetts, Sen. Edward Kennedy – who died in August – is quoted on the back cover of the book.

"Bill Frist reminds us all in this compelling book that politics and public service are about far more than winning elections. They're about the commitment, compassion, and courage that good leaders bring to the noble causes they pursue. Bill Frist had those qualities in abundance, and the United States Senate was a better place because of him."

Follow Mark Preston on Twitter: @prestoncnn


Filed under: Bill Frist
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. carlos, THAT one

    another book written by a repugnant CON servative? sanitation departments everywhere are being overloaded with trash.....a shame because we should be saving the forests......after all they are repugnants..........

    October 7, 2009 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  2. Doc in Virginia

    Lott deserved to be replaced by someone whom he looked down on as a lightweight. Frist deserved to hang from his own medical petard in the Schiavo case that illuminated his shortcomings.
    One needs to have a decent sense of irony to enjoy a good laugh at both these vain fools' expense.

    October 7, 2009 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  3. Limbaugh is a liberal

    Frist is a joke! A historical footnote. He played politics not just against democrats but his own party just to push others down so that he can rise up. Well, it blew up in his face, and by the 2008 primaries no self-respecting republican endorsed him! Good riddance!

    October 8, 2009 01:14 am at 1:14 am |
  4. Peter E

    Frist was yet another one of a long list of 'GOP rising stars' from the past few years. The media has gone through the list of senators, only to have the GOP nominate one of their oldest senators. Now the media is going through governors. Guess what their track record is! Jeb Bush, Pataki, Jindal, Palin, Sanford, etc. All history! Warning to would-be-presidents: if the media calls you a 'rising star' your political career is doomed!

    October 8, 2009 01:16 am at 1:16 am |