Hillary Rodham Clinton has not said for sure if she is running for president in 2016. Joe Biden has not said for sure if he is running for president in 2016. Into that Democratic vacuum rides the wink-wink, nudge-nudge part of campaign 2016.
On Tuesday, the Atlanta Journal Constitution quoted a source as saying that Clinton used a Q-and-A period after her closed-to-the-public speech in the city to note that she had backed the raid that ended in the death of Osama bin Laden. Not incidentally, the source said, the former secretary of State noted several times that Vice President Biden had opposed it.
Clinton’s team had insisted that no video or recordings be made of her speech, a familiar demand from her camp. The news organization enlisted attendees to take her measure.
“No ears reported any mention of whatever 2016 ambitions Clinton might have,” said reporters Greg Bluestein and Jim Galloway. “But state Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) said the former first lady dropped a huge hint. 'I know she’s running for president now, because toward the end, she was asked about the Osama bin Laden raid. She took 25 minutes to answer,' Taylor said. 'Without turning the knife too deeply, she put it to [Vice President Joe] Biden.'
“Time and time again, Taylor said, Clinton mentioned the vice president's opposition to the raid, while characterizing herself and Leon Panetta, then director of the Central Intelligence Agency, as the action's most fierce advocates.”
The account of their positions was not new; Biden himself has acknowledged that he felt the 2011 mission was too risky. According to a recounting of the administration’s deliberations in “The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden,” author Mark Bowden said that of President Obama’s senior counselors, only Biden ultimately opposed the mission. Then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates preferred bombing the compound where Bin Laden was hiding rather than sending in Americans, but Clinton backed the mission.
What was notable was the suggestion — or theory — that Clinton was differentiating herself from Biden in preparation for a clash as 2016 Democratic candidates.
The same connotation flowed from a Biden appearance in Iowa in September. Speaking at an annual political gathering where wink-wink is the favored approach, Biden praised Obama and said — with no delineation of the Bin Laden situation — that they had consistently agreed, dating back to the 2008 presidential contest.
Biden said John Kerry, Clinton’s successor as secretary of State, was “one of the best secretaries of State” in the nation’s history. Clinton got no mention.
Aides to both would-be candidates declined to comment, a circumstance that, like vague candidate assertions, can be expected to change down the line.