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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Frist Holds News Conference; Interview With Kay Bailey Hutchison

Aired December 23, 2002 - 16:04   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We're watching the new Senate majority leader walk down the hall of his building there in Nashville and make his way into the room where reporters are waiting. You do get the sense that a little bit of planning went into this. That's the senator's wife, Karyn Frist. They have three children, I believe it is. Some of them I see -- I recognize some of them behind the senator.
This must be an anteroom as they make their way into the room where the reporters are waiting. Senator Frist, 50 years old. He was a practicing surgeon, heart lung transplant surgeon. In fact, he came up with the procedure that he pioneered.

And now let's listen to Senator Frist, the new Republican majority leader in the United States Senate.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R), TENNESSEE: Last night, recognizing that our lives as a family would likely today take a direction that was radically, radically different than what I personally had asked for or even anticipated just seven days ago, my wife Karyn and I went to the same church that we have gone to on the eve of each of my previous elections back in 1994 and the year 2000.

While there, just several hours ago now, my mind kept returning to that passage in Proverbs: "In his heart, a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps."

Well, you know, I've been given responsibility before. As a physician, the responsibility was to heal; to listen very, very closely, to diagnose, to treat and, yes, to heal.

Until today, in fact, just moments ago, I have always regarded my most profound professional responsibility in life to be a blessing that I'd been given once before. And that blessing, indeed, was to hold in my hands a precious heart in all its glory, in all its power. And then, from a technical standpoint, being able to place that heart into the chest of a dying woman, who without that heart was without hope, who had no chance of living a normal life.

A few moments ago, my colleagues gave me a responsibility equal to that, and in some ways, many would say, even a heavier responsibility. I accepted that responsibility with a profound -- profound sense of humility very similar to placing that heart into a dying woman or a child or a man. Yes, it's humility.

My colleagues, just a few minutes ago, gave me their confidence. They gave me their support. They gave me their trust and elected me as their leader in the United States Senate.

In that capacity, people ask, "What are your intentions?" They haven't been asking me very long, because seven days ago this is something that I had not set out to do.

But I told my colleagues in our conference call that my intentions are, indeed, to serve, not be served, so that we together, as a group -- yes, as a team will be able to capture what is truly remarkable, I believe, in terms of the potential and to really be able to express the full will and the purpose of that wonderful institution called the United States Senate.

I do pledge to take this opportunity to strengthen the institutional integrity of the United States Senate. I pledge to my colleagues and others to work with members, my own caucus, with the other caucus, with independents, with both houses of the United States Congress, and with the administration and the president of the United States.

Our purpose, very simply put, politics, we say, is to improve the lives of others. As a physician I think, as I look at every patient, it is to make each American's life more fulfilling. And that means many things to many people.

And my job is to help assimilate, to listen very carefully just like the doctor, to assimilate or pull together those ideas and to make decisions and, indeed, to lead.

I want to say, as I have a few moments here, how proud I am of my Republican colleagues. Over the last two to three weeks it has been a challenging time, not just for my Republican colleagues, but, indeed, for all of America.

My colleagues have risen to the challenges of the past two weeks, and we will rise to the challenges of the next two years.

We stand united. We speak as one team, and we -- I honestly believe this -- will transform what has occurred in the last few weeks, what has occurred at the moment in history, into a catalyst, a catalyst for unity and a catalyst for positive change.

These have been trying times for America in many, many ways. In the coming days, I will be working with my Republican colleagues in the United States Senate, with the entire United States Senate, independent and Democrats, so that we can address the daunting challenges that face us as peoples of the United States of America.

As we speak, our brave men and women in uniform around the world standing for us, fighting for us. They, as well as our president of the United States of America, our commander in chief, deserve our continued support, our continued support to win this war against terror.

Our economy: We know it needs a boost. Every American who wants a job should have the opportunity to find that job. Health care: We have a great opportunity, a great opportunity that I don't think any of us really fully anticipated even several months ago to reach out and strengthen Medicare as an entire program, to improve Medicare, to give our seniors and those individuals with disabilities the things that they really deserve today.

Yes, we need to address prescription drugs for seniors and individuals with disabilities, and we will do just that. We need to focus on the uninsured and those who suffer from health care disparities that we so inadequately addressed in the past, but which I saw every day working at a hospital for eight or nine years just several blocks from here.

And we must dedicate ourselves to healing those wounds of division that have been reopened so prominently during the past few weeks.

Still, just as critical as what we decide to do is exactly how we decide to do it. The unprecedented way -- and again, seven days ago I had no earthly idea that I would be standing before you -- but I think that unprecedented way that all this has happened gives me personally the tremendous opportunity to join a group of recently elected leadership team, that I just got off a conference call with just a few minutes ago, that is energetic, that is committed, that is experienced.

Senator Stevens and McConnell and Santorum and Hutchison and Kyl and Allen; I told them I'm proud to be a part of that new team to lead us forward. I will, as I told them, because I'm aware -- and you have to be as a heart surgeon; you don't go in and do heart surgery if you don't know the things you know and things you don't know, your strengths and your weaknesses.

And just like I'm mentioning to you, I told them that I will continue to see their counsel, capitalizing upon each and every one of those strengths as we gather together as a team and walk together, leading our caucus to the future.

I have asked the leaders, formally, just a few minutes ago, as well as other people on our conference call, for their ongoing counsel and support; an ongoing basis, reaching out to gather the information and the knowledge what they learned from their constituents, what they learn from their advisers on a basis that is continually improving what we see in our legislative body.

As the majority leader, I will seek the wisdom -- I will seek the wisdom to put the strengths that each of us as individuals, both in leadership and throughout the United States Senate, to the best possible use for all Americans.

My last call was just a few minutes ago before coming to be with you, was -- and my first call, other than the Republican caucus, was to Senator Tom Daschle. I committed to work with him, to work with members of the Democratic caucus, and I should also add independents, as well, to make this Congress, which will open up in early January, to be one that is positive, that brings people together and that is productive.

What is required of all of us, this whole range of junior members who just came on board, the senior members, the so-called old bulls in the United States Senate, the elected leadership and those who don't seek election but who lead within our conference or our caucus in their own way, is to work together as a team.

My Republican colleagues witnessed my own personal commitment to working as a team a few weeks ago, or a few months ago, over the last two years as chairman of the national Republican Senatorial Committee.

Very simple things: first of all, caring about America; number two, rallying behind common goals that we set, in that case it was before elections, in this case it'll be to amplify that reaching out to make other people's lives more fulfilling across America.

And that team work is my challenge, to be able to transfer using, yes, what I hope is some element of reaching forward with leadership potentials to capture the best of what each and every one of us try to do.

In closing I do want to mention my team. You know, I talked about the Republican caucus, I talked about the United States Senate, you talk about friends, but my team, my wife Karyn, and two of the three boys here, my own personal team, Karyn, and here is Jonathan and Bryan Frist, and Harrison is on the way home here in a few hours.

But clearly the strength that I get, both as a heart surgeon -- and they tolerate a lot working every day and every night for years and years -- but now as majority leader of the United States Senate it is that team, my wife Karyn, my boys and, indeed, our extended family, many of whom are with us here today, that I gather what strength that I both have and will continue to put forward.

Let me close by simply saying that a few moments ago something unprecedented in the history of the country happened with my election to the United States Senate under circumstances that nobody had anticipated.

I pledged to my colleagues that, as majority leader of the United States Senate, I will do everything within my own realm of responsibility and within that realm of power that they have so generously granted to me to ensure that the United States Senate, as an institution, does stand united, that indeed the Republican Party, in the broadest sense, stands united. And indeed really what is all that about is that the United States of America indeed stays united.

We're all about right now extraordinary times. We have a duty. We have a duty, a truly, truly historic duty to lead the whole of America, and together we will.

Now let's all go home, let's have a safe and a happy holiday season, focus on friends, focus on our purpose in life, what it means to each and every one of us, and have a wonderful, wonderful time, cherish those moments with our loved ones. And within a few weeks we'll all be back, we'll set out that agenda, we'll lay out that strategy and all the plans that I know all of you want to ask about.

So have a happy, happy holiday season.

Thank you all very, very much.

WOODRUFF: Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee. They had said earlier he would not take questions. It looks like he's going to stay true to his word.

Showing a little bit of laryngitis as he introduces himself to the American people in his first news conference after being elected to that powerful position as the majority leader of the upper body, the United States Senate.

We heard him say, We're going to transform what has occurred in the last few weeks, of course, referring to the controversy over racially-tinged remarks made by Senator Trent Lott. We're going to transform that, he said, into a catalyst for unity and for positive change.

Of course, the question then becomes exactly how will he and his Republican colleagues seek to do that.

With us now is someone who will be part of the Republican leadership team in the United States Senate. She is Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Senator Hutchison, I listened to Senator Frist, and yet you look at his voting record and you look at the voting record of the man he's replacing, Senator Trent Lott, and at least on most of the votes that are recorded, they are almost identical. How is he going to be different?

SENATOR KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), TEXAS: I think he's going to be different because he is very adept at outreach. He has a real feel for the health care needs of our country. That will be his long suit, no doubt about that. And he knows we've got to come together and address the war on terrorism, support the president in that, and have an economic policy that puts people back to work.

So I think that he is going to bring people in. He's going to be kind of a manager. That is his style. He's going to include everyone. And I think we're going to see a lot of movement in the Senate on these major issues.

WOODRUFF: Where do you put him on the ideological spectrum? Is he more conservative or less conservative than Trent Lott?

HUTCHISON: He is a mainstream conservative. That's what I would say about him. He's not real far right; He's certainly not far left. He's a mainstream, regular conservative.

WOODRUFF: I notice that he only mentioned the president once, in passing almost. He talked about we need to support the troops, we need to support the commander in chief. Isn't there some concern among some of your Republican colleagues in the Senate that Bill Frist, because he's so close to the White House, to the president -- not only to the president, but to his chief political adviser, Karl Rove, that this may be somebody that's going to be too much doing the bidding of the president, of the White House?

HUTCHISON: Judy, I have heard that said a lot, but the Senate is a very independent body. We respect our president, and we're going to work with the president. But the president has maybe a little different view in some issues. The Senate a little different, the House a little different. We all come together because the major focus is the same. But I don't think that anyone has to worry that Bill Frist is going to be more supportive of the president than the Senate as a body would be.

I think we are supportive of the president, but we may have disagreements. And that's why you have three branches of government. That's why you have kind of a check and balance system: to make sure you get all of those views on the table.

I think that it's going to work very well. I'm very pleased. I don't think that anyone could say he's too close to the president. You couldn't be too close to the president.

WOODRUFF: Senator Hutchison, to what extent is there a burden on your party now to demonstrate that it does believe in fair treatment for minorities and that African-Americans have every opportunity? Will there be specific things done? We heard Senator Frist refer to this being a catalyst for action.

HUTCHISON: I do think that all of us are going to try to focus more on that. I think we've made a good start with the No Child Left Behind public education act to make sure that the first thing a child gets is a good education. Because that's really the ticket to success. And that we have historically black colleges and Hispanic- serving institutions get the funding that they need. We need to do more in that regard, to make sure that every child in this country has a chance at the American dream. I think we've made a great start. But I think that there will be more to do, and I think we will come together to do that.

WOODRUFF: Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, thanks very much. Good to see you. We appreciate your talking to us.

HUTCHISON: Thank you.

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