Clinton is urged to slow down on gays in military Senate leaders express concerns about lifting ban

November 16, 1992|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Staff Writer Staff writer John Fairhall contributed to this article.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Several key senators warned President-elect Bill Clinton yesterday to go slowly on his pledge to lift the ban on homosexuals in the military.

The cautions came just before Mr. Clinton met in Little Rock with Democratic congressional leaders, hoping to forge a relationship that will ease the way for his aggressive agenda to avoid Washington gridlock and be enacted smoothly.

Giving a dinner at the governor's mansion for Speaker of the House Thomas S. Foley, Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell and House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Mr. Clinton said he hoped to convince his Democratic colleagues about the task before them.

"We've got a big job to do and we've got to do it together," said the president-elect.

Mr. Mitchell said he was looking forward to a "warm, productive and good" relationship with Mr. Clinton and predicted that partisan bickering in Congress would be kept to a minimum.

But on Sunday morning TV talk shows, several Senate leaders, including Mr. Mitchell, cautioned Mr. Clinton to go slowly on a campaign pledge he reiterated last week -- ending the ban on homosexuals in the military.

Referring to the many issues that Mr. Clinton is likely to confront while he tries to build relations with Congress, the senators suggested there could be a tough and furious battle ahead for the president-elect if he moves too quickly on the homosexual issue.

Sen. Sam Nunn, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on CBS's "Face the Nation" that he would "fear for the lives of people in the military themselves" if Mr. Clinton lifts the 50-year military ban overnight.

"I think there could be some very emotional feelings, so I would prefer that it be stretched out over a period of time," said Mr. Nunn, who told reporters later that he agreed with the current ban.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he thought Mr. Clinton should appoint a commission to study the issue and "put it on the back burner."

He predicted that an executive order overturning the ban might "blow the lid off the Capitol."

Mr. Clinton has said that, while he is committed to lifting the ban, he wants to meet with military leaders -- possibly this week when he travels to Washington -- to discuss options and how a change in policy might be implemented.

Along with the other senators appearing on the talk shows, Mr. Mitchell -- who, like Mr. Clinton, believes the ban should be rescinded -- said that congressional action would be required to amend the current military policy.

Mr. Dole said he doubted that Congress would approve such a measure, but Mr. Mitchell said that he believed the new president would find enough support if he moved in a "sensible and prudent" way.

The proposed policy change has been so controversial that some military leaders have predicted massive resignations if the ban is lifted.

Mr. Dole, suggesting more of a willingness to cooperate with the new president than he has in previous remarks, said: "Holding his feet to the fire might be all right, but I don't think we want to be obstructionist."

He conceded that some Senate Republicans support a family and medical leave bill -- legislation twice vetoed by President Bush but favored by Mr. Clinton. And Mr. Mitchell predicted such bill would be dealt with early in the new administration.

But Mr. Mitchell hinted at some possible thorny spots in the emerging relationship between Mr. Clinton and Congress. The Senate leader was less enthusiastic than Mr. Foley had been last week about a proposal to give the president enhanced authority to veto specific budget items.

He also said he didn't think a 25 percent reduction in the congressional staff, as Mr. Clinton has urged, was "appropriate" and questioned the five-year lobbying ban the president-elect is expected to impose on members of his administration.

Mr. Mitchell also said a middle-class tax cut, part of Mr. Clinton's economic package, should be among the options under consideration, but he made it clear that it was not a top priority.

Mr. Clinton and his staff have spoken about a 100-day agenda for economic and social matters. But Mr. Mitchell also played down any hopes of Congress honoring any deadline.

"I think it's an artificial deadline established for no purpose other than giving definition . . . to a sense of urgency about action," Mr. Mitchell said.

Mr. Clinton and the three congressional leaders are scheduled to hold a news conference in Little Rock at 9 a.m. EST to discuss their first meeting.

Before last night's dinner, which included Vice President-elect Al Gore, Mr. Clinton took an early morning jog, attended church and

met with economic adviser Robert Reich and journalist Bill Moyers, press secretary to President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Later this week, Mr. Clinton will travel to Washington to meet with Mr. Bush and bipartisan Congressional delegations. He said yesterday he was "very much" looking forward to his first meeting since the election with the man he defeated.

"I think it's time we met and talked," Mr. Clinton said. "I think it's time for us to get together."

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