“It’s just lunch!” insist the handlers for both participants in today’s most closely watched inside-the-Beltway meal.
But aides to President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who are set to sit down at noon at the White House, are keenly aware that almost no one in Washington believes the two are simply catching up.
Their shared declaration, after all, is also the name of a prominent matchmaking business, and the political class assumes the hidden agenda has something to do with setting the parameters for their relationship during the next three years.
Democratic operatives, potential Republican rivals and the pundits will all be scouring for any scraps of evidence suggesting the president will or won’t encourage a 2016 campaign by his one-time rival and then Cabinet member — and any additional indications of whether Clinton has decided whether she wants to capitalize on being the overwhelming early favorite.
No one will be more interested than Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has regular lunches with Obama in the same West Wing dining room being used this afternoon. His decision about running a third time for the top job looks to rest significantly not only on what Clinton decides to do, but also on whether Obama sends any signal about which of his two closest advisers he’d prefer as his successor.
All three of them ran for the Democratic nomination in 2008, with Biden dropping out after capturing less than 1 percent in the Iowa caucuses and the others waging one of the closest primary and caucus campaigns in modern times.
The White House hasn’t revealed the menu or the planned duration of this afternon’s meal, but Obama’s schedule has him meeting at 2:15 with the 2012 World Series champion San Francisco Giants.
Conversation starters could range from the complexities of the Middle East to whether Diane Lane is the right choice to portray the former New York senator and first lady in the miniseries announced over the weekend by NBC.
It’s the first time Obama and Clinton have been together since this spring’s dedication of the George W. Bush presidential library in Texas.
Since leaving the State Department in February, Clinton has been making paid speaking engagements, worked with her family’s foundation on early childhood development and women’ empowerment initiatives and has signed a deal to write a memoir of her diplomatic career for publication next year.