Harry Reid, Bill Frist, My Boss’s Coma and Control of the U.S. Senate

The following day, I used to be with Tim’s household in one other non-public hospital ready room, watching CNN medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta give surreal studies on “Tim Johnson’s mind,” when who unexpectedly comes into the room however then-Republican (and about to retire) Senate Majority Chief Bill Frist, together with the attending doctor of the U.S. Capitol, Dr. John Eisold. All of the sudden, the darkish political actuality of the scenario got here crashing down on us. It wasn’t misplaced on anybody that the Democrats had simply gained barely sufficient seats to take management of the Senate and make Harry Reid the new majority chief, however solely with a really slender 51-49 seat majority. As CNN and different cable information networks reported advert nauseam on the hospital TVs, if Tim died, Republicans would hold management of the Senate, as his alternative can be chosen by South Dakota’s Republican governor, Mike Rounds, and Vice President Dick Cheney would have damaged the 50-50 Senate tie in favor of the GOP. Then, as now, management of the Senate hinged on only one seat — and, in moments like that, one senator’s well being can turn into a matter of excessive nationwide significance.

It was greater than somewhat jarring to see Frist. Two years earlier, in 2004, he had damaged the Senate precedent {that a} occasion chief doesn’t marketing campaign towards his counterpart from the different occasion when he traveled to South Dakota to marketing campaign towards Daschle, Tim’s shut good friend and then the Senate Democratic chief. Some of us — like me — nonetheless had very exhausting emotions about it. It wasn’t in any respect odd that Eisold was there — his workplace was first on the scene when Tim wanted assist the day earlier than, and checking on a member of Congress who was in a Washington, D.C. hospital was half of his duties. Nonetheless, strive as I would, I couldn’t make any sense of why Frist was there — it appeared somewhat odd, as Tim and Frist had no relationship in any respect, however Frist didn’t keep longer than required to pay his respects to Tim’s spouse, Barb, and then he and Eisold stated goodbye and left, presumably to return to the Senate.

Or, so I assumed. A couple of minutes after Frist and Eisold left, I went to examine on Tim and, to my astonishment, Frist and Eisold had been in Tim’s hospital room, chatting together with his medical doctors, whereas Tim was mendacity comatose in mattress, hooked as much as varied machines. “What the hell?” I assumed; nobody had given the Republican Senate majority chief, of all folks, permission to traipse into Tim’s room. It now appeared to me that Frist’s go to to the household was a ruse and that he was there on a reconnaissance mission to study Tim’s prognosis — whether or not he would dwell or die, or what form he can be in if he recovered. (Editor’s word: Frist says, “I used to be there as a good friend and doctor.)


This wasn’t proper, however I didn’t know what to do — I definitely didn’t have the standing to kick the Senate majority chief out of Tim’s room. However then it occurred to me to name Harry Reid — he would know what to do — so I did.

After I advised Reid the place Frist and Eisold had been, he exploded in anger. “What the hell is Eisold doing bringing Frist there? He is aware of higher than that!” After which, “You inform Frist that he’s to not discuss to the media when he leaves the hospital, and I’m going to speak to Eisold when he will get again to the Capitol!”

After I spoke to Frist, he replied, “Oh, I’d by no means try this!” And he didn’t remark, however he additionally refused to comply with the hospital’s PR particular person’s suggestion that he exit unobtrusively by a again door, as a substitute strolling out the entrance previous the phalanx of community and cable information cameras lined up in what appeared like a “dying watch.” I assumed: Frist wished the picture op of his go to to the ailing Democratic senator. Welcome to Washington …

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