Bill Frist

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Bill Frist
Bill Frist official photo.jpg
Senate Majority Leader
In office
January 3, 2003 – January 3, 2007
DeputyMitch McConnell
Preceded byTom Daschle
Succeeded byHarry Reid
Leader of the Senate Republican Conference
In office
January 3, 2003 – January 3, 2007
DeputyMitch McConnell
Preceded byTrent Lott
Succeeded byMitch McConnell
United States Senator
from Tennessee
In office
January 3, 1995 – January 3, 2007
Preceded byJim Sasser
Succeeded byBob Corker
Personal details
William Harrison Frist

(1952-02-22) February 22, 1952 (age 69)
Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Karyn McLaughlin
(m. 1981; div. 2012)
Tracy Roberts
(m. 2015)
EducationPrinceton University (BS)
Harvard University (MD)

William Harrison Frist (born February 22, 1952) is an American physician, businessman, and politician who served as United States Senator from Tennessee from 1995 to 2007. A heart and lung transplant surgeon by occupation, he was Senate Majority Leader from 2003 to 2007. He is a member of the Republican Party.

Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Frist studied health care policy at Princeton University and interned for U.S. Representative Joe L. Evins. Rather than going directly into politics, Frist earned a Doctor of Medicine degree from Harvard Medical School, becoming a surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital and several other hospitals. In the 1994 Republican Wave, he defeated incumbent Democratic Senator Jim Sasser; he pledged to only serve two terms.

After serving as Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Frist succeeded Tom Daschle as the Senate Majority Leader. Frist helped pass several parts of President George W. Bush's domestic agenda, including the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 and PEPFAR. He was also a strong proponent of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act and a prominent advocate of tort reform. Frist left the Senate in 2007, honoring his commitment to serve no more than two terms.

Early life and education[edit]

Frist was born in Nashville, Tennessee, the son of Dorothy (née Cate) Frist and Thomas Fearn Frist, Sr.[1] He is a fourth-generation Tennessean. His father was a doctor and founded the health care business organization which became Hospital Corporation of America. Frist's brother, Thomas F. Frist, Jr., became chairman and chief executive of Hospital Corporation of America in 1997.[2]

Frist graduated from Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, and then from Princeton University in 1974, where he specialized in health care policy at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Frist was a member of University Cottage Club while he was a student at Princeton.[3] In 1972, he held a summer internship with Tennessee Congressman Joe L. Evins, who advised Frist that if he wanted to pursue a political career, he should first have a career outside politics. Frist proceeded to Harvard Medical School, where he received the degree of Doctor of Medicine with honors in 1978. While at Harvard, he shared an apartment with future United States Congressman David Wu.[4]

While he was a medical school student in the 1970s, Frist performed fatal medical experiments and vivisection on shelter cats while researching the use of drugs on the mitral valve. By his own account, Frist improperly obtained these cats from Boston animal shelters, falsely telling shelter staff he was adopting the cats as pets.[5] In his book, Frist asserted that he succumbed to the pressure to succeed in a highly competitive medical school.

Frist's treatment of cats first became controversial in 1994, in his first Senate campaign, when the opposing camp in the Republican primary called him a cat-killer. The matter again created public controversy in 2002, after mention in a Boston Globe profile, published after his election as Senate majority leader.[6][7]

Between 1997 and 2006, Frist received honorary degrees from five historically black colleges and universities, including Fisk University, Howard University, LeMoyne-Owen College, Meharry Medical College, and the Morehouse School of Medicine.[8]

Medical career[edit]

Frist joined the laboratory of W. John Powell Jr. at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1977, where he continued his training in cardiovascular physiology.[9] He left the lab in 1978 to become a resident in surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. In 1983, he spent time at Southampton General Hospital, Southampton, England as a senior registrar in cardiothoracic surgery. He returned to Massachusetts General in 1984 as chief resident and fellow in cardiothoracic surgery. From 1985 until 1986, Frist was a senior fellow and chief resident in cardiac transplant service and cardiothoracic surgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine.[9]

After completing his fellowship, he became a faculty member at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where he began a heart and lung transplantation program.[9][10] He became a staff surgeon at the Nashville Veterans Administration Hospital. In 1989, he founded the Vanderbilt Transplant Center.[10] In in 1991 Frist operated on then–Lieutenant Colonel David Petraeus after he had been shot in a training accident at Fort Campbell.[11] In 1998 Frist administered aid to victims and the shooter in the 1998 Capital Shooting.[12]

United States Senator (1995–2007)[edit]

In 1990, Frist met with former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker about the possibilities of public office. Baker advised him to pursue the Senate and suggested in 1992 that Frist begin preparations to run in 1994. Frist began to build support. He served on Tennessee's Governor's Medicaid Task Force from 1992 to 1993, joined the National Steering Committee of the Republican National Committee's Health Care Coalition and was deputy director of the Tennessee Bush-Quayle 1992 campaign.[citation needed]

Frist looks on as President George W. Bush signs the North Korea Nonproliferation Act of 2006 (Pub.L. 109–353 (text) (pdf)) into law.

During the 1994 election, Frist promised not to serve for more than two terms, a promise he honored.[13]

Frist accused his 1994 opponent, incumbent Senator Jim Sasser, of "sending Tennessee money to Washington, DC", and said, "While I've been transplanting lungs and hearts to heal Tennesseans, Jim Sasser has been transplanting Tennesseans' wallets to Washington, home of Marion Barry." During the campaign he also criticized Sasser for trying to become Senate Majority Leader, claiming that his opponent would be spending more time taking care of Senate business than Tennessee business. Frist won the election, defeating Sasser by 13 points in the 1994 Republican sweep of both houses of Congress, thus becoming the first doctor in the Senate since June 17, 1938, when Royal S. Copeland died.[14]

In his 2000 reelection campaign, Frist easily won with 66 percent of the vote. He received the largest vote total ever by a statewide candidate. Frist's 2000 campaign organization was later fined by the Federal Election Commission for failing to disclose a $1.44 million loan taken out jointly with the 1994 campaign organization.[15] Frist paid a civil fine of $11,000 in a settlement with the FEC.[16]

Frist supported the Iraq war while in the Senate; he supported the initial invasion as well as the war during the Iraqi Insurgency.[17][18]

Frist first entered the national spotlight when two Capitol police officers were shot inside the United States Capitol by Russell Eugene Weston Jr. in 1998. Frist, the closest doctor, provided immediate medical attention (he was unable to save the two officers, but was able to save Weston). He also was the Congressional spokesman during the 2001 anthrax attacks.[19]

As the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he helped Republicans win back the Senate in the 2002 midterm election. His committee collected $66.4 million for 2001–2002, 50% more than the previous year.[citation needed]

Senate Majority Leader (2003-2007)[edit]

On December 23, 2002, Frist was elected Senate Majority Leader.[20] He became the third-youngest Senate Majority Leader in U.S. history. In his 2005 book, Herding Cats, A Lifetime in Politics, Frist's predecessor, Trent Lott, accused Frist of conspiring to push Lott out of the Senate Majority Leader post.[21]

In the 2003 legislative session, Frist enjoyed many successes. He was able to push many initiatives through to fruition, including the Bush administration's third major tax cut and legislation restricting abortion.[citation needed] He led the fight against a rare late term abortion procedure, intact dilation and extraction, characterized politically by abortion opponents as partial birth abortion.[22] Frist co-sponsored[23] and voted for the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, and against an amendment to include a woman's health exception (saying that he considered the procedure to be hazardous to a woman's health).[24][better source needed] However, the tactics that he used to achieve those victories alienated many Democrats. He also was instrumental in developing and then passing the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the historic and unprecedented funding commitment to fight disease. In 2004, by comparison, he saw no major legislative successes, with the explanations ranging from delay tactics by Democrats to lack of unity within the Republican Party.[citation needed]

Sen. Frist with Sen. Lamar Alexander and Interior Secretary Gale Norton

In a prominent and nationally broadcast speech to the Republican National Convention in August 2004, Frist highlighted his background as a doctor and focused on several issues related to health care. He spoke in favour of the recently passed Medicare prescription drug benefit and the passage of legislation providing for Health Savings Accounts.[citation needed]

In an impassioned argument for medical malpractice tort reform, Frist called personal injury trial lawyers "predators": "We must stop them from twisting American medicine into a litigation lottery where they hit the jackpot and every patient ends up paying." Frist has been an advocate for imposing caps on the amount of money courts can award plaintiffs for noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases.[25]

During the 2004 election season, Frist employed the unprecedented political tactic of going to the home state of the opposition party's minority leader, Democrat Tom Daschle of South Dakota, and actively campaigning against him. Daschle's Republican opponent, John Thune, defeated Daschle. Frist and Daschle later worked together at the Bipartisan Policy Center and have spoken together at healthcare conventions and events.[26]

Many of Frist's opponents[who?] accused him of pandering to Republican primary voters and taking extreme positions on social issues such as the Terri Schiavo case to please the Republican base. However, Frist changed his position on stem cell research. Frist initially supported a total ban on human cloning, including for embryonic stem cell research. Since 2001, Frist supported President George W. Bush in his insistence that only currently existing lines be used for stem cell research. In July 2005, however, Frist reversed course and endorsed a House-passed plan to expand federal funding of the research, saying "it's not just a matter of faith, it's a matter of science."[27] Up to that point the legislation had been considered bottled up in the Senate. The decision quickly drew criticism from James Dobson and other Christians,[citation needed] but garnered praise from former First Lady Nancy Reagan.[28]

In an extended confirmation fight over Bush's pick for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John R. Bolton, Frist failed—on two occasions—to garner the 60 votes to break cloture. The nomination received fewer votes in Frist's second effort, and even lost the support of one moderate Republican (George Voinovich of Ohio). On June 21, 2005, Frist said the situation had been "exhausted" and there would be no more votes. Only an hour later, after speaking to the White House, Frist said: "The president made it very clear he wants an up-or-down vote." This sudden switch in strategy led to charges of flip-flopping in response to pressure from the Bush administration. Nevertheless, no up-and-down vote was held, and Bush made a recess appointment of Bolton.[29]

Frist at the inauguration of his successor Bob Corker (second left). Along with Tennessee's former Senator Howard Baker (second right), and Senior Senator Lamar Alexander (far right).

Frist pledged to leave the Senate after two terms in 2006 and did not run in the 2006 Republican primary for his Senate seat. He campaigned heavily for Republican candidate Bob Corker, who won by a small margin over Congressman Harold Ford Jr. in the general election.[citation needed]

Schiavo case[edit]

In the Terri Schiavo case, a brain-damaged woman whose husband wanted to remove her gastric feeding tube, Frist opposed the removal. In a 2005 speech delivered on the Senate Floor, challenged the diagnosis of Schiavo's doctors of Schiavo being in a persistent vegetative state (PVS): "I question it based on a review of the video footage which I spent an hour or so looking at last night in my office."[30] After her death, the autopsy showed signs of long-term and irreversible damage to a brain consistent with PVS.[31] Frist defended his actions after the autopsy.[32]

Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA)[edit]

Just before Congress adjourned for the 2006 elections, in what politicos call a "midnight drop", Frist inserted the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) clauses into the larger, unrelated Security and Accountability for Every Port (SAFE) Act. The SAFE Act itself was a late "must pass" bill designed to safeguard ports from terrorist infiltration.[33] In the Zogby International Poll, 87% believe online gambling is a personal choice which should not be banned. A Wall Street Journal Poll showed 85% oppose government prohibition of online gambling.[34] The UIGEA became the basis for the April 15, 2011, US Department of Justice government crackdown and domain name seizure of three of the world's top online poker sites, dubbed "black Friday" in the poker community.[35] The DOJ Office of Legal Counsel subsequently issued an opinion in September 2011, stating that the UIGEA applies only to betting on sporting events and contests and not to other types of online gambling.[36][37][38][39]

Post-Senate career[edit]

Political involvement[edit]

Frist was mentioned as a potential 2008 Republican presidential candidate and as a potential 2010 Republican candidate for Governor of Tennessee. He did not run for president in 2008 or for governor in 2010.[40][41][42]

In 2009, Frist stated that he would have broken with his party by voting in favor of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was unanimously opposed by Republicans.[43] In January 2011, after the Republicans regained a majority in the House, Frist called on them not to attempt to repeal the health care law.[44]

Other endeavors[edit]

After leaving the U.S. Senate, Frist became a co-chair of ONE VOTE '08, an initiative of the ONE campaign, with former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD). According to, "ONE Vote '08 is an unprecedented, non-partisan campaign to make global health and extreme poverty foreign policy priorities in the 2008 presidential election."[45][better source needed] Frist traveled to Africa for the ONE campaign in July 2008.[46][better source needed]

In 2008, he became a partner in Chicago-based Cressey & Co., investing in the nation's health care market.[47][48]

In 2009, Frist launched a statewide education reform nonprofit organization targeting K-12 education called SCORE (State Collaborative on Reforming Education).[49][better source needed] The organization's mission is to "collaboratively support Tennessee's work to prepare students for college and the workforce." Frist has served as chairman of SCORE's board of directors.[citation needed] As part of SCORE's work, Frist presents the State of Education in Tennessee report at the beginning of each year, a comprehensive look at the state's efforts to improve public education.[50] In 2013, Frist voiced support for higher academic standards in grades K-12, reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and improving efforts to identify, foster, and reward effective teaching.[51][52][53]

In May 2009, Frist joined forensic chemical and drug-testing laboratory Aegis Sciences Corp. as a health care advisor and member of its board of directors. His new responsibilities include assisting in Aegis's development of a strategic alliance with Vanderbilt University Medical Center, providing counsel on the company's research and development for new laboratory-based toxicology assessments, and advise Aegis on general health care issues.[54][better source needed]

In November 2009, Frist joined the board of directors of engineering, construction and technical services firm URS Corp. to bring his expertise and unique perspective on a wide range of economic issues.[55][56]

In March 2010, Frist was appointed a member of the six-person board of the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, which had raised $66 million for immediate earthquake relief and long-term recovery efforts in the Caribbean country.[57]

Frist has also served as a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center. As of 2020, he is a co-leader of the Health Project.[58]


In June 1989, Frist published his first book, Transplant: A Heart Surgeon's Account of the Life-And-Death Dramas of the New Medicine, in which he wrote, "A doctor is a man whose job justifies everything ... Life [is] a gift, not an inalienable right."[59] With J. H. Helderman, he edited "Grand Rounds in Transplantation" in 1995.[citation needed] In October 1999, Frist co-authored Tennessee Senators, 1911–2001: Portraits of Leadership in a Century of Change with J. Lee Annis, Jr.[60]

In March 2002, Frist published his third book, When Every Moment Counts: What You Need to Know About Bioterrorism from the Senate's Only Doctor. While generally well received, the book later spurred accusations of hypocrisy regarding his remarks about Richard Clarke. When Clarke published his book Against All Enemies in 2004, Frist stated "I am troubled that someone would sell a book, trading on their service as a government insider with access to our nation's most valuable intelligence, in order to profit from the suffering that this nation endured on September 11, 2001."[61]

In December 2003, Frist and co-author Shirley Wilson released the self-promoting book, Good People Beget Good People: A Genealogy of the Frist Family.[62]

Personal life[edit]

Frist is the son of Thomas F. Frist, Sr. and Dorothy Cate. He has four siblings: businessman and philanthropist Thomas F. Frist, Jr.; Dr. Robert A. Frist; Dorothy F. Boensch; and Mary F. Barfield.[63]

In 1981, Frist married Karyn McLaughlin. Frist recounted in his 2009 memoir meeting his future wife in 1979 when he attended to her at a clinic in Boston. He was engaged to another woman in Tennessee and broke it off a week before the wedding. They have three sons: Harrison, Jonathan, and Bryan. The Frist family were members of the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. Karyn Frist reportedly filed for divorce on September 7, 2012.[64] The Frists' divorce was finalized in December 2012.[65]

On May 29, 2015, Frist married Tracy Lynne Roberts (b. April 14, 1962).[66] The couple resides in Nashville, Tennessee.[67]


As of 2005, Frist had a fortune in the millions of dollars, most of it the result of his ownership of stock in Hospital Corporation of America, the for-profit hospital chain founded by his brother and father. Frist's 2005 financial disclosure form listed blind trusts valued between $15 million and $45 million.[68]

Members of the Frist family have been major donors to Princeton University, pledging a reported $25 million in 1997 for the construction of the Frist Campus Center.[69][70] Daniel Golden, a Wall Street Journal journalist and author of the book The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges — and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates, has suggested that two of Frist's sons (Harrison and Bryan) were admitted to Princeton as recognition of this donation rather than their own academic and extracurricular merit.[71]

Bill and Karyn Frist were the sole trustees in charge of a family foundation bearing the senator's name which had more than $2 million in assets in 2004. He and his siblings were vice presidents of another charitable foundation bearing their parents' names. Frist failed to list his positions with the two foundations on his Senate disclosure form. In July 2006, when the matter was raised by the Associated Press, his staff said the form would be amended. Frist had previously disclosed his board position with World of Hope, a charity that gives money to causes associated with AIDS. The charity has come under scrutiny for paying consulting fees to members of Frist's political inner circle.[72] The status of Frist's blind trust, and subsequent statements about it and activities within it, led to an SEC investigation. He was questioned in 2005 by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) about stock sales allegedly based on inside information.[73][74] The investigation was closed after 18 months and no charges were filed.[75] Frist said in a statement, "I've always conducted myself according to the highest ethical standards in both my personal and public life, and my family and I are pleased that this matter has been resolved."[76]


In 2001, he received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.[77][78]

In 2011, he received the Al Ueltschi Award for Humanitarian Leadership in recognition of his life-saving efforts worldwide, and the importance of business aviation to those endeavors.[79]

Electoral history[edit]

1994 United States Senate election in Tennessee
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican Bill Frist 834,226 56.35 +21
Democratic Jim Sasser (incumbent) 623,164 42.10 -22.99
Republican gain from Democratic Swing
2000 United States Senate election in Tennessee
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican Bill Frist (incumbent) 1,255,444 65.10 +8.75
Democratic Jeff Clark 621,152 32.21 -10
Republican hold Swing


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External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Tennessee
(Class 1)

1994, 2000
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Response to the State of the Union address
Served alongside: Susan Collins
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Senate Republican Leader
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Tennessee
Served alongside: Fred Thompson, Lamar Alexander
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Senate Majority Leader
Succeeded by