Hillary Clinton Gives Joe Biden an Opening
Hillary Clinton is moving to distance herself from key White House policies
WASHINGTON— Hillary Clinton’s moves to distance herself from key White House policies creates an opening, if he wants one, for Vice President Joe Biden to run for president as the natural heir to the Obama legacy.
Mrs. Clinton broke with President Barack Obama this week over a major Pacific free-trade deal many Democrats oppose, just as the White House begins selling the accord to Congress. That decision followed harsh comments from the former secretary of state about Mr. Obama’s handling of immigration, a rebuke of his Syria policy and her call for repealing a key piece of his health-care law.
Those moves bought her political points with some important Democratic constituencies in the nomination contest, particularly labor unions. Union leaders oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the health-care provision, which imposes a new tax on the high-end insurance plans that many of their members have.
On trade, she also put herself on the same side as her top primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), as well as former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. The three will debate for the first time on Tuesday.
Peter Hart, a Democratic polling expert, said Mrs. Clinton’s moves to the left are “a political calculation, and probably one that will serve her well.”
But her positions also open a schism with the president she served for four years, and create a possible rationale for Mr. Biden, who is expected to soon decide whether to enter the Democratic primary.
Clinton campaign aides say there is no strategy to separate herself from the president and note that on a range of issues, such as climate change and Wall Street regulations, she’s vowing to protect Mr. Obama’s legacy and build on his progress.
“There are differences within particular issues, but the overall thrust of what she advocates and what she builds her candidacy on is building on the progress he’s made,” said Jennifer Palmieri, who is communications director for Mrs. Clinton and held the same position in the Obama White House.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Mr. Obama wasn’t surprised by Mrs. Clinton’s decision on the trade deal. The president “understands that it is the responsibility of individual candidates to distinguish themselves,” in a campaign, he said.
“That means distinguishing themselves from their competitors, and in some cases, that means distinguishing themselves from the current occupant of the office,” Mr. Earnest added.
The White House has left open the possibility that Mr. Obama will endorse someone in the Democratic race, assuming the president might disclose who he votes for in the Illinois primary on March 15.
Mr. Obama already has indirectly gifted to Mrs. Clinton some of his most precious political assets: the super PAC formed to support his re-election is now backing her, and some of his top advisers are working for her campaign.
But should the White House care to boost Mr. Biden, he could be given a higher profile, with more frequent turns at the bully pulpit or appearances with Mr. Obama.
Mr. Earnest gushed this week over a pro-Biden super PAC advertisement that features the vice president talking about the bonds he built with his children after his first wife and infant daughter were killed in a 1972 car crash.
Mrs. Clinton often praises Mr. Obama, particularly on his economic policies, but notes she isn’t running for a third Obama term.
There are advantages to creating some separation from Mr. Obama for whoever wins the Democratic nomination.
Among the general public, 67% of Americans want a “different approach” in the next administration, compared with 30% who would like something similar. But among Democrats, 60% say they want a similar approach, while 35% are looking for something different, according to a July Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.
Dan Pfeiffer, who served as a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, said he doesn’t believe that Mrs. Clinton is actively trying to separate herself from the president but that a handful of high-profile issues happen to have emerged at the same time.
“My guess is that the folks who supported Obama in ‘08 will be particularly sensitive to things they see as separating herself from the president,” he said. “Enough of these things in close proximity could create a press narrative, as unfair as that may be.”
Mr. Obama lodged an objection last week after Mrs. Clinton described the U.S. effort to arm rebels opposing the Syrian regime as a failure and calling for a no-fly zone, a move he has resisted.
During a news conference, he mentioned that some people have offered “half-baked” ideas when it comes to ending the Syrian war. Asked if he would describe Mrs. Clinton in such terms, the president noted, “There’s a difference between running for president and being president.”
On most issues, Mrs. Clinton is staking out territory to Mr. Obama’s left, and more in line with the party’s base. But on foreign policy, she has long projected a more hawkish point of view, and Mr. Biden would be to her left on foreign affairs. The two were at odds on several key decisions during Mrs. Clinton’s time as secretary of State, with Mr. Biden advocating against more robust U.S. military action.
On immigration, Mrs. Clinton cast Mr. Obama’s policies in a harsh light in a recent interview with the Spanish-language network Telemundo. She echoed earlier complaints from the immigrant rights movement that the administration was breaking up families through its deportation policy. She essentially ignored major changes ordered by Mr. Obama late last year in response to these concerns.
“The deportation laws were interpreted and enforced, you know, very aggressively during the last 6½ years,” she said. “I think we have to go back to being a much less harsh and aggressive enforcer.”