Dec. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist last week rejected anything less than a full renewal of the Bush administration's anti-terror legislation. He said he had ``made it very clear'' he wouldn't accept a temporary extension of the USA Patriot Act, as Democrats were demanding.
Six days later, after threatening to allow the law to lapse, Frist accepted a short extension of the law. The Republican leader was forced to swallow that reversal because eight members of his own party had joined with Democrats to support an extension.
The Dec. 21 defeat capped a year of setbacks for Frist, whose leadership has been weakened by a series of missteps, divisions within his own Senate Republican caucus and a probe of his stock trades by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Most Capitol Hill observers now regard Frist as ``the weakest majority leader in perhaps 50 years,'' said Charles Cook, editor of the Washington-based Cook Political Report.
This performance has taken a toll on his presidential aspirations in 2008, once regarded as promising. Earlier this year, Republican activists such as Gary Bauer, president of American Values, an Arlington, Virginia-based group that opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, had called Frist a serious contender. Now, said Cook, ``I don't think he has a snowball's chance in hell.''
The Patriot Act extension was just one of several defeats for Frist this week on issues that are top priorities for President George W. Bush, who played a major role in Frist's ascension to the majority leader's post three years ago.
Alaska Oil Drilling
Senate Democrats, with the support of three Republicans, blocked a bid to allow oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A $39.7 billion package of cuts to federal benefits programs -- less than Republicans had initially asked for -- passed only after Vice President Dick Cheney, acting in his role as president of the Senate, cast a tie-breaking vote.
Earlier in the year, Frist wound up on the sidelines as seven Republicans joined with an equal number of Democrats to strike a deal clearing the way for the confirmation of some judicial nominees. The May agreement ended Frist's effort to eliminate the use of the filibuster, a tactic to block votes, against federal court nominees.
Frist's expertise as a physician was called into question when he told senators in March that his review of video images suggested Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged Florida woman, was ``not somebody in a persistent vegetative state.'' After a court battle over whether to keep her alive ended with her death, an autopsy found she had been blind and had a severely atrophied brain (read more)