Yesterday we noted that Barack Obama had decided to leave his Secretary of State at home while he traveled to Russia to meet with Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, perhaps not coincidentally after leaks indicated that Hillary Clinton thought Obama had responded too weakly to the Iranian crisis.  Another Clinton has decided to defy Obama more openly.  Former President Bill Clinton agreed to headline a fundraiser for Carolyn Maloney’s primary challenge to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand — after Obama endorsed her in the special election:

In a slap at President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton will headline a fundraiser for a New York congresswoman challenging White House-backed Sen. Kristen Gillibrand in the state’s Democratic primary.

Clinton has not endorsed in the race, but his efforts to help Rep. Carolyn Maloney could be seen as a snub to Gillibrand and the Obama White House. Matt McKenna, a spokesman for Clinton, said he will be attending a July 20 fundraiser in New York.

The White House has played an active role in clearing the field for Gillibrand, who was appointed earlier this year to fill the seat vacated when Obama tapped Hillary Rodham Clinton to be his secretary of state. Obama asked Rep. Steve Israel not to challenge Gillibrand, a request he honored. Just days ago, Vice President Joe Biden called Maloney to discuss the race, a clear sign that the White House didn’t want a primary fight next year.

Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told reporters last week that the White House would help Gillibrand’s re-election bid.

Clinton’s spokesperson claims that this doesn’t constitute an endorsement, but it’s hard to read it any other way.  Clinton hasn’t campaigned for Gillibrand, after all.  Since Gillibrand got appointed to replace Hillary Clinton earlier this year, Bill and Hillary have remained quiet about the seat — until now.

The Clinton-Obama relationship has always been strained, ever since Obama overtook Hillary in her bid for a history and a return to the White House.  Obama appointed her as Secretary of State for his own political needs, not out of any sense of expertise on Hillary’s part for diplomacy.  It took her almost no time to demonstrate that herself, with unforced errors like proclaiming her complete bemusement on multi-party democracy and the “reset” button she presented Sergei Lavrov that was mistranslated — and not in Cyrillic script, either.

If the politics between the two have stopped working, then Obama has no other need for Hillary.  If Obama jettisons her, though, Hillary could turn into a formidable foe within the Democratic Party, and might wind up challenging an Obama re-election bid the way Ted Kennedy did to Jimmy Carter, which turned into a disaster for both men.  How much defiance can Obama handle?