Presidents Bush, Clinton Team Up in Toronto; Clinton Says His View on Gay Marriage Is ‘Evolving’

By MichaelJames

May 29, 2009 8:31pm

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: This afternoon in Toronto, former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush shared a stage for a “conversation with presidents” at Toronto’s Convention Centre, in a ticketed event (with a hefty payday for both ex-presidents) that was open to the general public.

It was a fascinating discussion — these two 62-year-old men with a combined 16 years in the presidency, talking about current and past events as probably no one else alive can, for the first time in a public forum.

While President Bush mostly kept to his promise not to criticize his successor, he bristled at the suggestion — advanced by President Obama, among others — that Iraq distracted the nation from the war in Afghanistan.

“I don't buy the premise that our attention was diverted” by Iraq, Bush said.  “I think it's false. Matter of fact, I know it's false. I was there."

And while President Clinton mostly kept to his promise to “thwart” efforts to get 42 and 43 to tangle with each other, he offered an interesting insight into his thinking on gay rights.

On the issue of gay marriage — which Clinton, like President Obama, personally opposes — Clinton said of his position: "Frankly, it's evolving" as he sees more committed gay couples raising kids.

As ABC political director David Chalian has pointed out, Clinton isn’t the only Democrat whose position on gay marriage is moving.

Clinton also expressed optimism that the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” — which he helped enact — will eventually come off the books, allowing gay members of the armed services to serve openly.

"I think that time will lead to a repeal of this ban,” Clinton said.

That’s one of many areas where the former presidents disagree. But mostly, this event was a lovefest.

Clinton heaped praise on Bush for his AIDS initiative and the diversity of his Cabinet. Bush urged Clinton not to be so hard on himself over Rwanda.

Bush welcomed the audience to “the Bill and George show.” Clinton teased that while the pair was facing expectations that they would “devour each other,” “we’ll do our best to thwart them.”

They bonded over life outside the presidential bubble. Clinton called it “disorienting” to walk into a room without a band playing “Hail to the Chief,” while Bush joked that when he walks Barney now, he gets to pick up “that which I had dodged for eight years.”

I’ll have more on the event — and the emerging relationship between the two presidents — on Saturday’s “Good Morning America.”

The event was organized by The Power Within, a private, Toronto-based company that typically runs motivational seminars. It was moderated by Frank McKenna, a prominent Canadian politician who served as ambassador to the United States in 2005 and 2006.

The 6,000-ticket event, held at the cavernous Metro Toronto Convention Centre, was not sold out as of Friday morning. Tickets were sold for as little as $229 and as much as $2,500 for a seating package that included a picture with Bush and Clinton.

Organizers didn’t allow recording devices into the room, but they did allow members of the media to purchase tickets, just like anybody else. That’s what ABC did to cover the event.

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