BY Meena Hartenstein
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
As Senate Republicans blocked a bill designed to repeal "don't ask, don't tell," even the man who put the controversial policy in place says he wishes he hadn't.
"Do you ever regret it as a policy?" CBS News Anchor Katie Couric asked former President Bill Clinton on Tuesday, hours after a GOP filibuster prevented Democrats from advancing a defense spending bill tied to repealing the ban on openly gay soldiers serving in the military.
"Oh, yeah," Clinton responded. "But keep in mind, I didn't choose this policy."
Clinton says he only adopted the restriction for the armed forces after it became clear both the House and Senate were going to adopt an absolute ban on gays in the military unless he put something like "don't ask, don't tell" in place.
"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, marching in gay rights parades as long as they weren't in uniform," Clinton told CBS. "That's a very different don't ask, don't tell than we got."
The Senate's defeat of the bill alarmed gay advocates who feel the window of opportunity to get the policy repealed will be closed if Democrats lose their majorities in the House and Senate this fall.
But Clinton remained optimistic about his party's prospects ahead of the midterm elections, saying there's a good possibility Dems can "surprise everybody and do quite well."
He also defended President Obama, his wife's one-time political rival, and declined to speculate on whether life would be better if Hillary was president.
"You know, that's impossible to know," Clinton said. "I think both the President and the Congress have done a better job than they have gotten credited with, because people's lives don't feel better, and because they have been effectively attacked, and because the Republicans have just said no."