Hillary Clinton might be wondering: what’s Barack Obama up to?
Washington: President Barack Obama says he has no preference in the Democratic fight to succeed him. Hillary Clinton could be forgiven for having her doubts.
Officially Mr Obama hasn’t taken a position in the potential contest between two of the most prominent members of his “team of rivals” cabinet. But he doesn’t seem to be doing anything to discourage Vice-President Joe Biden from upending the Democratic presidential race by making a run against Mrs Clinton, Mr Obama’s first secretary of state.
Since the start of September, the White House has sent Mr Biden on photo-op trips to Democratic bastions in Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, and this week, California, Michigan and Ohio. Last week, Mr Biden met Robert Wolf, a top Wall Street fundraiser for Obama, in New York. And last Wednesday, when Mr Obama took Mr Biden’s wife, Jill, on a trip to Michigan to promote the idea of free community college, he reminded the audience of his feelings toward his vice-president.
Aides insist that Mr Obama is neutral on the Democratic presidential nomination battle: “The President’s got his own long agenda that he’s focused on right now,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters last month. But it’s hard to imagine that he doesn’t have an interest in ensuring the party field the strongest possible candidate to continue his legacy.
And after initially seeming to show favour to Mrs Clinton – with a private meeting at the White House just before she announced her campaign and what to many sounded like a near-endorsement when she launched it – Team Obama now seems to be sending different signals, as controversy over Mrs Clinton’s emails continues, her poll numbers plummet and Mr Biden, still mourning the death of his son Beau, openly agonises about whether he’s ready to make his third presidential campaign.
From the White House press room podium on August 24, Mr Earnest delivered an extended meditation on a hypothetical Biden campaign, telling reporters that “a large portion” of Mr Obama’s accomplishments “would not have been possible without the wisdom, counsel and leadership of Vice-President Biden”.
Mr Earnest said an Mr Obama endorsement in the Democratic primary was possible. That was a slight change from April, before Mr Biden began considering standing for president, when Mr Earnest said it “would be the responsibility of Democratic voters” to select a candidate.
And then there was the tweet heard around the political world: Long-time Obama strategist David Axelrod’s diss of a New York Times article on Mrs Clinton’s campaign strategy as reading more like a satire.
Perhaps most tellingly, there was the secret tete-a-tete Mr Biden held last week with Mr Wolf. The former chairman and chief executive of UBS Americas raised more than $US500,000 for Mr Obama in each of his presidential campaigns and is probably his closest friend on Wall Street. As with Mr Biden’s lunch with Senator Elizabeth Warren in August, the Vice-President’s office didn’t publicly disclose the 90-minute meeting. Mr Wolf, however, confirmed it to Bloomberg.
Mr Wolf says he supports Mrs Clinton and has contributed $2700, the maximum for an individual, to her campaign. But he has not yet raised money for her, making him an obvious target for Mr Biden’s entreaties. Mr Wolf, for what it is worth, said Mr Biden didn’t say whether he would stand and didn’t ask for his support.
At the White House, the official view remains, what Mr Earnest told reporters: Both Mr Biden and Mrs Clinton “served their country in this administration with distinction”, he said. But the de facto head of the Democratic Party seems to be turning his neutrality into a game of intrigue.