Bill Clinton Heckled at Netroots Nation; Answers on DADT, DOMA

Transcript (via Andrés Duque at Blabbeando)

HUDSON: Mr. President, will you call for a repeal of DOMA and “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” right now? Please…

CLINTON: Hey, you know, you ought to go to one of those congressional health
care meetings. You did really well there. I’ll be glad to talk about
that. If you will… If you will sit down and let me talk, I’ll be glad
to discuss it. But if you stand up and scream I won’t be able to talk.
But the other guys would love to have ya. I wanna talk a little about
that too.

But anyway, so, here we are in a different world. Now,
it’s not like the 1990’s. You wanna talk about ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’,
I’ll tell you exactly what happened. You couldn’t deliver me any
support in the Congress and they voted by a veto-proof majority in both
houses against my attempt to let gays serve in the military and the
media supported them. They raised all kinds of devilment. And all most
of you did was to attack me instead of getting some support in the
congress. Now, that’s the truth.

Secondly – it’s true! – You
know, you may have noticed that presidents aren’t dictators. They voted
– they were about to vote for the old policy – by margins exceeding 80%
in the House and exceeding 70% in the Senate. The gave test votes out
there to send me a message that they were going to reverse any attempt
I made by executive order to force them to accept gays into the
military. And let me remind you that the public opinion is now more
strongly in our favor than it was sixteen years ago and I have
continued supporting it. That John Shalikashvili, who was Chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff under me, was against “Don’t A..” – was
against letting gays serve – is now in favor of it. This is a different
world. That’s the point I’m trying to make.

Let me also say
something that never got sufficient publicity at the time. When General
Colin Powell came up with this ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ it was defined
while he was Chairman much differently than it was implemented. He said
that, if you will accept this, here is what we’ll do. We will not
pursue anyone, any military members out of uniform will be free to
march in gay rights parades, go to gay bars, go to political meetings,
whatever mailings they get, whatever they do in their private lives,
none of this will be a basis for dismissal. It all turned out to be a
fraud because of the enormous reaction against it among the middle
level officers and down after it was promulgated and Colin was gone. So
nobody regrets how this was implemented even more… anymore than I do.
But the congress also put that into law by a veto-proof majority and
many of your friends voted for that, believing the explanation about
how it would be eliminated. So, I hated what happened. I regret it. But
I didn’t have, I didn’t think at the time, any choice if I wanted any
progress to be made at all. Look, I think it’s ridiculous. Can you
believe they spent – what did they spend? – 150,000 dollars to get rid
of a valuable Arabic speaker recently?

And, you know, the thing
that changed me forever on ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ was when I learned
that 130 gay service people were allowed to serve and risk their lives
in the 1st Gulf War and all their commanders knew they were gay, they
let them go and risk their lives ‘cause they needed them, and then as
soon as the 1st Gulf War was over, they kicked them out. That’s all I
needed to know, that’s all anybody needs to know, to know that this
policy should be changed.

Now, while we’re at it, let me say one
thing about DOMA, since you… The reason I signed DOMA was, and I said
when I signed it, that I thought the question of whether gays should
marry should be left out to states and the religious organizations, and
if any church or other religious body wanted to recognize gay marriage
they ought to. We were attempting at the time, in a very reactionary
congress, to head off an attempt to send a constitutional amendment
banning gay marriage to the states. And if you look at the Levin
referendum much later in 2004, in the election, which the Republicans
put on the ballot, to try to get the base vote for President Bush up, I
think it’s obvious that something had to be done to try to keep the
Republican congress presenting that. The President doesn’t even get to
veto that. It’s the Congress can refer constitutional amendments to the
states. I didn’t like signing DOMA, and I certainly didn’t like the
constraints it would put on benefits, and I’ve done everything I’ve
could, and I am proud to say that the State Department was the first
federal department to restore benefits to gay partners in the Obama
administration, and I think we are going forward in the right direction
now for federal employees, and I don’t like that eith… I don’t like the

But actually all these things illustrate the point I was
trying to make. America has rapidly moved to a different place to a lot
of these issues and so what we have to decide is what we are going to
do about it.