Earlier Frist walkouts have miffed Hastert. In late January, Frist skipped the beginning of a Republican Greenbrier retreat to attend the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland. That killed Hastert's plans for a three-way conference between him, Frist and Bush. A month earlier, Frist missed the counting of Electoral College votes (including the Ohio challenge) to leave on a medical mission to the Indian Ocean following the tsunami. This was a decision by a doctor, not a politician.
Even more experienced legislators have trouble coping with the ambiguous relationship between majority leader and president. But seldom has a Republican majority leader so blatantly defied a Republican president as Frist has on stem cell research. What irritates pro-life activists is that they had been conferring with Frist over strategy to derail the legislation he now is supporting.
Frist has recovered from helplessness against Daschle on judicial confirmations. Sen. Harry Reid, the new Democratic leader, sounds harsher than Daschle in public but is much more congenial in private. Frist has won confirmation of three hotly contested Bush nominees for the appellate bench and is in the driver's seat on future confirmations.
Self-limited to two Senate terms, Frist leaves at the end of 2006 whether or not he launches a full-fledged presidential campaign beginning in 2007. But in his remaining time, he may face multiple Supreme Court nominations, Social Security revision and tax reform. He is sincere and increasingly effective, but colleagues hope his ear will become more acute.