Hillary Rodham Clinton said today she disagrees with her husband's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military, describing it as a "political compromise" that "has not worked" and that she would seek to change if elected to the Senate from New York.
Clinton said she has "the utmost respect and admiration" for her husband's work as president, but noted, "I don't have carbon copy issues with anybody, including my husband. I would think that we are all our own persons who stand for public office."
On gays in the military, the latest subject on which she has diverged from President Clinton's position, Hillary Clinton said gay men and women should be allowed to serve openly in the military--a position that her husband had pressed at the start of his administration but was forced to abandon.
Instead, the Clinton administration agreed to a policy under which gays and lesbians may serve in the military as long as they do not announce their sexual orientation. But critics point out that the number of service members discharged from the military for being homosexual has actually increased under the new rules, and Hillary Clinton said the policy has not prevented instances of anti-gay harassment and even murder.
Saying that she would work on the issue if elected to the Senate, Clinton first addressed the issue Tuesday night at a fund-raiser thrown by gay supporters, one of whom asked her to explain her position. At a news conference today, she reiterated that view.
"I don't believe 'don't ask, don't tell' has worked and I don't believe it is ultimately the policy that we should have in our military," she said.
Her statements on the inflammatory issue are one of a series in which she has departed from official administration positions, including those on the Middle East and clemency for Puerto Rican terrorists.
On the "don't ask" policy, she said, "As I've been informed, my position is basically the position that the vast majority of Democratic elected officials [have taken]. . . . So it's an issue that I think represents the views of most New Yorkers."
Hillary Clinton's presumed Republican opponent, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who describes himself as "pro-gay rights," responded to the first lady's statements today by chiding the Clintons for the different positions they have had on gays in the military.
"There's been a couple of flip-flops, so I'm a little confused on where they are right now," Giuliani said. The mayor's aides would not discuss his position on the issue but did not dispute reports that he, too, is critical of "don't ask, don't tell."
Hillary Clinton characterized "don't ask" as "the result of a political assessment that it was the best that could be gotten at the time," when her husband was deluged with opposition to lifting the ban on gay service members. "The policy was . . . an accommodation," she said, "and it has not worked."
She said that until the country reaches "the ultimate goal of ending discrimination and enabling people to serve their country, I think we'd have to make sure that the current policy is implemented as it was intended, so that people currently in the military can serve without harassment."
With gay voters an important Democratic Party constituency, both Democratic presidential candidates--Vice President Gore and Bill Bradley--have also been quizzed about the issue. Bradley has said that he would eliminate the policy, while Gore has said that he supports "don't ask, don't tell" but would like to see it enforced less aggressively.
Earlier this year, Hillary Clinton declared her support for Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel, though the administration's view is that this is an issue to be hashed out by the parties to the Middle East conflict.
More recently, she criticized her husband's August offer of clemency to a group of Puerto Rican terrorists, though at first it had appeared she agreed with the policy.
Hillary Clinton said she saw no contradiction between her policy disagreements with her husband's administration and her wish for him to campaign for her. On the vast majority of issues, she is supportive of her husband's policies, and her campaign stops routinely feature praise for his achievements.
Hillary Clinton's comments today came during a news conference that followed a meeting with Irish American leaders, where she hailed the recent formation of a Northern Ireland government and the apparent end to the bitter religious conflict there with the Clinton administration's help. She called for a doubling of the U.S. contribution to the International Fund for Ireland from its current $20 million to $40 million.