Former President Bill Clinton said he regrets implementing the ban on gay troops serving openly in the military because it does not represent what Colin Powell “sold” him when the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff proposed don’t ask, don’t tell as a compromise.
“Keep in mind, I didn't choose this policy,” Clinton said Tuesday on the CBS Evening News.
“When Colin Powell sold me on ‘don't ask, don't tell,’ here's what he said it would be: Gay service members would never get in trouble for going to gay bars [or] marching in gay rights parades as long as they weren't in uniform.”
Clinton made his comments just hours after Senate Republicans blocked a $726 billion defense spending bill that would have included repeal of the controversial policy.
"That was what they were promised,” Clinton said. “That's a very different ‘don't ask, don't tell’ than we got."
Clinton said Powell persuaded him to accept a compromise on the controversial 1993 legislation “because it was better than an absolute ban on gay service. I was promised it would be better than it was.”
The former president said Powell swayed him after it became clear both the House and Senate were going to adopt an absolute ban on gays in the military otherwise.
“Both Houses of Congress had voted by a huge veto-proof margin to legislate the absolute ban on gays in the military if I didn't do something else,” Clinton said. “I didn't do anything until the votes were counted.”
Powell, a former secretary of state under President George W. Bush and national security adviser under President Ronald Reagan, has done an about-face on don’t ask, don’t tell since his days in the Clinton administration. He now supports repeal of the law, along with other top administration officials.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, support repeal of the policy. But they don’t want Congress to act until the military concludes its study, due Dec. 1, on how to lift the ban without hurting morale, recruiting, or retention.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday showed that 3 out of 4 people polled believe openly gay people should be allowed to serve in the military, up from 62 percent in early 2001 and 44 percent in 1993. The number of Republicans who support repealing the ban doubled from 32 percent to 64 percent since 1993.
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