Whether by design or not, Obama is a willing abettor of the Biden-for-president speculation. In announcing the fiscal-cliff agreement, he went out of the way to refer to Biden as his “extraordinary” vice president. Obama hasn’t always been so effusive in his praise of his running mate, sometimes expressing chagrin (if not embarrassment) at Biden’s verbal slips. But just assigning the veep to several high-profile jobs after the election suggests he wants to raise the Biden profile.

Perhaps the president is sending a message to Hillary Clinton that he will not automatically back her if she decides to run in 2016. With Biden in the field, Obama has a ready excuse as to why he can’t endorse the early front-runner. To be sure, Clinton has been a loyal secretary of state. But Biden’s loyalty has been second to none, and Clinton was Obama’s strongest and bitterest rival for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

Moreover, her recent health problems might compromise her presidential prospects. Though younger than Biden, she still would be 69 shortly before Election Day 2016. Obama and Biden will meet privately with Clinton in the Oval Office on Monday. While the agenda was not made public, given the current Biden publicity surge both sides are likely to be taking political as well as foreign policy notes.