Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist
HH: Welcome now to the Hugh Hewitt Show, Majority Leader Bill Frist. Senator Frist, great to have you back.
BF: Hey, Hugh. Great to be with you.
HH: Senator Frist, congratulations on the resolution unanimous last week supporting Israel. Any weakening in the Senate’s resolve to stand by our ally?
BF: No. No. And you know, the resolution, it was interesting, because we wrote it here in the Majority Leader office, and it was a good, strong resolution supporting Israel, defensible borders, and we’ve got to be behind them 100%. And we got it through unanimously. You know, it was tough, and a lot…some talking back and forth, and the condemnation of Hezbollah, and the terrorist organizations. And what is important for us, and I was over at the White House just a little bit ago today, with a restatement, and the President again restating his commitment to Israel, and support consistent with the resolution that we’ve put forward.
HH: Now Senator Frist, Israel’s bleeding out economically. I was reading the Jerusalem Post today. They’ve lost their crops, they’re ports are closed, the refineries at half capacity. It’s a great privilege to ask you this. Is there any way we can get them some money?
BF: Hugh, I don’t know, and that to be honest with you, that conversation with either my appropriators, or in the leadership, have not come forward and asked specifically, and it didn’t come up in my meeting with the President. As you know, in terms of military support, although it’s in the normal course of what was underway, we have expedited the exchange and the purchases and aid. In terms of specific requests beyond that, I don’t know, but we’ll look into it.
HH: Now Senator, yesterday, your colleague, Harry Reid, took to the floor and unburdened himself of a…frankly, it’s an incoherent demand that we cut and run from Iraq while standing shoulder to shoulder with Israel, that there be another debate on Iraq policy, and that he’s worried about Somalia, which is where we cut and run from originally. What did you make of yesterday?
BF: Hugh, it is interesting, and I think it’s going to be interesting what happens over the next 24 hours in view of the Senator’s comments, but also what’s going on in terms of the House today. Tomorrow morning, I’ll be welcoming Prime Minister Malaki here as Leader in the Senate, as will the Speaker, and he will be addressing our body. And there seems to be a move underway by the Democrats to be attacking, directly or indirectly, or possibly not even showing up, for the Prime Minister’s address. If so, I think that will reenforce that at the same we have our men and women over there fighting, fighting for this sovereign government, a disrespect for that government by not listening and interacting with that leader. And I think it’s going to be very interesting as that plays out tomorrow.
HH: Senator Frist, is there any doubt in your mind that it’s all one war, that the Hezbollah attacks on Israel, and Israel’s response, is connected to our defense of the new democracy in Iraq?
BF: No. I think this…what we’re seeing play out in Lebanon…remember, three or four weeks ago, people weren’t even focused on that, but what we’re seeing in terms of the terrorist activity with Hezbollah corresponds with what we’re seeing with Hamas, and parts of Israel today. And indeed, both of the funding and root causes go back again and again and again to Damascus or Syria, and Iran. And this consistent theme throughout, yes, different entities, but coming back to the same root cause, which is very much the radical, Islamo-facist movement that a lot of people are beginning to realize is not just in one country, or not even just in one region, but pervasive throughout that entire region.
HH: Senator Frist, such a deep defeatism, at least on the blogosphere, for example, at Andrew Sullivan’s site, writing recently that one of the biggest military fiascos in American history lurches toward another downdraft. Do you see the punditocracy invested in defeat now?
BF: I hope not. I hope not. And you know, people accuse me of being overly optimistic, but I do have an optimistic view, as long as we are tough, we hang tough, we don’t retreat, we don’t cut and run. Surrender is not a solution. We debated that on the floor of the Senate now about three or four weeks ago, and I wouldn’t be surprised if listening a little bit to the comments you referred to that were made on the floor yesterday, that we either next week, or in September when we come back after our recess, we’re not debating again whether our not we’re going to stick unified behind our troops in fighting this war on terror, or this radical Islamic facism, or whether we’re going to hear from a lot of people on the other side of the aisle who want to cut and run, who want to surrender. And that’s a debate that we’ll welcome.
HH: You’re the Majority Leader of the United States Senate, and one of the most powerful men in the United States. Have the generals, the admirals, the military brass come to you at any time and indicated they believe we are losing?
BF: No. No, and we pay a lot of attention to what goes on the ground. We’ve heard…or the public have heard the President say it, and the same thing in terms of us who are sitting here in Washington, D.C., and responsible to 250-280 million Americans. We have to go to those people on the ground who have the experience, who are trained, who are trained to listen, trained to fight, trained to respond, and that’s where we get our information. And that’s why I…again, I don’t want to be overly optimistic, or overly confident, but know that we’re on the right track, whether it comes to our support of Israel, our ally in the war on terror, or supporting the prime minister, and that sovereign, newly elected government in Iraq.
HH: Senator Frist, let’s do a little Senate business update. The Supreme Court has given you a charge to get the President the authority that he needs to conduct, I don’t believe, the sort of procedural stuff that we do for Americans. But have you folks got a bill together yet? Is it urgent on the list to get the process regularized?
BF: Hugh, I met with the President just a little bit ago, specifically, that was one of the issues. The Hamden decision, which came down in late June by the Supreme Court, did give us the specific mandate, in essence, to legislate, and to define how we handle these enemy combatants, and we’ll clarify it, and that we will do just that. And the two entities are what is the nature of the miltary tribunal, and will define that in legislation, and then the second issue is this so-called common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. And there, we have to be very careful that we set our United States standards, and we don’t internalize or adopt what European standards might be, or someone else’s standards. And so we welcome the opportunity to legislate on both of those issues. We will do that, probably the third week in September.
HH: Senator Specter has an NSA bill out, which I don’t like, but I understand his concerns. Is that going to be on the agenda for early September as well, Majority Leader Frist?
BF: We will see. In this particular case, Senator Specter has worked with the administration. I have personally not gone through that bill, just because it hasn’t been brought to the leadership level as of yet. But I think that we’ll be happy to look at it, and I’m not going to commit to spending time on the floor with it yet, unless that I see that it really does make sense in terms of my goal, and that is keeping America safe, that people listening to us right now will be safer and more secure, and that we’ll have a fair process to achieve that. And I haven’t focused on that yet, so I’m not going to commit to bring that to the floor, but I certainly will look at it.
HH: The Hamden decision, the NSA controversy, they all point us back to the courts. And so I’d like to just get some status from you, Majority Leader Frist. Peter Keisler, tremendous nominee for the DC Circuit, will he have an up or down vote before November?
BF: I’m going to work in that regard, and Hugh, we had Holmes was just earlier today, an outstanding nominee, was confirmed today. But again, instead of having a vote, we had to spend two hours yesterday, and two hours today, so some foot-dragging, but an outstanding nominee. We got four judges through last week. The closer we get to elections, the more the Demorats will put up obstruction. But we’re going to continue to fight to get up or down votes on common sense, balanced judicial nominees who understand that their job is not to legislate from the bench, but to interpret the law. And we’re going to continue fighting for them, and again, we got five judges through in the last four days, and I’m proud of that, and we’re going to keep working.
HH: Congratulations. Keisler, though, is DC Circuit. That’s where all these terror cases end up, where the regulatory weight of the United States, as you obviously know.
HH: Does he go to the front of the line, in your opinion?
BF: I just don’t know at this juncture, but you’re exactly right. If you look at the DC Circuit, and again, a lot of people don’t fully understand that, it, after the Supreme Court, is the next court in terms of heirarchy, in terms of responsibility, interpretation, and in terms of prioritization. I just can’t say at this juncture.
HH: You’re under tremendous pressure concerning Judge Boyle, and Department of Defense general counsel, William Jim Haynes. Any status report on either of those, when they’ll get their votes, or when they’ll…Haynes in the case, get a committee vote?
BF: No, I really can’t, Hugh. They’re both individuals that we’re working on every day. And there have been certain accusations that have been made that our staff and we are working on, and we’ll have to prioritize it accordingly. But in terms of specific dates, I just can’t comment yet.
HH: Are you hearing that pressure, though? Does that word get through to you?
BF: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
HH: People are upset about Boyle and Haynes?
BF: Absolutely. I mean, you know, the judges, even though in the big picture, our confirmation rate is superb for President Bush, you have seen us have to battle through these judges, and that’s where I stood on principle on the nuclear option, and with that, we seem to have broken the back of the filibuster, and we’ve had good success. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways of slowing up these nominations, and of course, people are seeing that. It’s a constant struggle.
HH: Keisler was late arriving, but Boyle and Haynes have been there…how do you explain, or how would you want to explain to this audience, why they’ve been…because it’s Republicans, isn’t it, that’s holding up Boyle and Haynes?
BF: It’s both. It’s both. And there are…usually, there are objections, and again, I don’t want to get into individuals, because I’m really having to vote and negotiate and push for these every day. But usually, there is some information, or some piece of information that has come forward, some of which is public, some of which is not public, that a group of Senators latch onto, and use, or try and use effectively in either blocking or asking for more information, and you’ve seen us have to go back for second hearings and third hearings, but it is a challenge.
HH: Is it fair to say that Senator Graham and Senator McCain in the case of Haynes?
BF: Yeah, Hugh, really, I just don’t want to get into naming individual Senators right now. If I were further along, and had gotten these people through, I’d be happy to do that.
HH: All right. I just hope…I’m sure I speak for the audience, those three really weigh on their minds. Last question, Senator, and I don’t want to take up too much of your time. Before the recess, there was word of a resolution on the New York Times and Los Angeles Times’ irresponsible leaking of national security information. I have not seen what happened to it. Is it still alive? Will it name those two papers?
BF: You know, I don’t know. People have put forth a lot of different resolutions. Let me just say that you’ll see me as a leader being not cautious in the substance, because I want to condemn any of these leaks coming through, whether it’s through the press, or ongoing leaks that have to do with surveillance programs, or other programs, or other tools that we have fighting terrorists. That needs to be condemned, it needs to be prosecuted. But there are other investigations that are underway that our Department of Justice and FBI are doing right now, and as…again, not naming any individuals, or what arena, surrounding, and discussions surrounding information that has been leaked. And I encourage that, and we’ve got to get to the bottom of these, and we’ve got to stop it. It does endanger the American people when you give the toolbox and the tools over to our enemy, tools that we know are very effective in stopping terrorism. And so it has got to stop, it’s got to be condemned, and if the law’s been broken, it’s got to be prosecuted.
HH: Majority Leader Frist, I thank you for the time, and for the opportunity to advocate for Israel funding, and for Peter Keisler, Haynes and Boyle, and for condemning resolution of the Times and the Times. Thank you, Mr. Frist.
BF: Okay, Hugh, thank you. And we are listening loud and clear. And it’s important for people to keep letting us know what direction to move in, and we’re listening loud and clear.
HH: Thank you. Talk to you soon, Majority Leader Frist.
BF: Thank you.
End of interview.