While President Obama and his administration have maintained a stony facade when it comes to weighing in on the 2016 Democratic presidential primary race, as well as any of Hillary Clinton’s tentative possible plans to maybe run for president, or not. At Friday’s White House daily briefing, however, Press Secretary Josh Earnest let that facade slip a little bit, without any help from the assembled press corps.
At the top of the briefing, Earnest delivered a fond farewell to outgoing White House Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri, who is expected to join Hillary Clinton’s campaign if there ever is one, and let slip a telling nugget:
“I think it’s possible that, while today is her last day at this White House, it may not be the last time that she serves at the White House, so we’ll see.”
That offhand remark seemed to confirm two things that, while somewhat obvious, have not actually been confirmed yet. Several reporters picked up on one of those things, including Fox News’ Ed Henry and CBS News’ Major Garrett, each of whom asked Earnest if his comment might constitute an endorsement of Clinton’s not-yet-existing presidential bid. Earnest took those opportunities to throw cold water on the idea (emphasis mine):
“The only signal that I was trying to send is my strong support for, and affection, for Jen Palmieri. That’s really it.”
“…As it relates to the President’s intentions to wade into a Democratic primary, that’s not something that he often does, but, you know, I wouldn’t rule it out at this point. We’ll see. Long way to the Democratic convention.”
Earnest may not have been trying to telegraph anything, but that doesn’t mean he succeeded. As Garrett pointed out, it’s pretty obvious that folks around the White House are rooting for Clinton, or at least for their former colleagues-turned-Clinton maybe-staffers. If you want to read an endorsement into this, though, it is worth noting that the uber-disciplined Earnest wouldn’t likely make such a slip if there were consideration like a Joe Biden run to consider, or more broadly, any chance that the President intends to sit the Democratic primary out.
Ed Henry, a sharper knife than people give him credit for, set the table for his question by asking Earnest about then-secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s role in the sanctions that led to the current Iran nuclear talks, and eliciting several minutes of praise from the press secretary:
“(It) is a testament to her diplomatic skill that we have reached a point where we could convene serious negotiations like the ones that are taking place.”
That response, along with his remark about Palmieri, will make a compelling package about the White House’s support for Clinton.
Perhaps even more importantly, though, Earnest seems to have confirmed the Clinton campaign we all know is coming. While it is quite possible that the general mood around the White House doesn’t necessarily reflect the President’s thinking on whether to endorse, and it is also possible that Earnest, like he said, has no insight into Hillary Clinton’s plans, there is zero chance that he and his coworkers don’t know for sure where Palmieri is going, and when.
While not every liberal is exactly ready for Hillary, this is all good news for anyone who wants to see a Democrat rake the White House in 2016. Clinton is the only Democrat remotely positioned to defeat the current crop of Republican contenders, but she will badly need both the support base and the staff that President Obama can offer. In 2008, Hillary’s worst liability was her overly-reactive, disorganized, and ham-fisted campaign operation. Obama campaign staff are known for sharp elbows, but Clinton’s team are essentially walking stalactites. The more staff Clinton gets from Obama, the better.
It’s also an encouraging sign that Hillary Clinton may not follow her fellow Democrats’ mid-term strategy of running away from Obama, which we all know worked out so well for them.