A Hillary-Obama rift in the making?

Jim Geraghty points out an unusual item from Reuters yesterday, in which the State Department announced that Hillary Clinton would not accompany Barack Obama to Moscow next week.  The nation’s chief diplomat will stay home while Obama pursues nuclear reductions with Russia, one of his big diplomatic projects, one in which observers would presume that the Secretary of State would have substantial involvement:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who broke her right elbow two weeks ago, will not accompany President Barack Obama to Moscow next week, a U.S. official said on Wednesday.

“Secretary Clinton is not going to go to Moscow,” the official told reporters, saying Clinton would name a State Department official to replace her on the Monday-to-Wednesday trip.

The official declined to explain why she would not travel and it was not immediately clear whether it was because of her injury. Clinton tripped and fell in the State Department on June 17 and had surgery two days later on her right elbow.

The administration and the State Department gave no indication that the injury would impede Hillary in her official duties.  In fact, she’s slated to travel later this month — but without Obama.

Jim reminds us of the leaks during the Iran crisis that had both Hillary and Joe Biden questioning Obama’s reaction to the eruption of opposition protests.  Those leaks didn’t come from Obama’s people, and even at that time raised questions about whether the partnership between Hillary and Obama was beginning to unravel.  Jim thinks the timing of this announcement may corroborate those suspicions:

We saw some foreign-policy disagreements during the primary, and now the secretary’s traditional role as the point person on all events, crises, and issues beyond our borders is being hemmed in by various special envoys and czars. Yesterday, the White House announced Vice President Biden would be overseeing progress in Iraq.

Is she tiring of him? Is he tiring of her? Or is this just the usual sand in the gears?

I suspect that she may be tiring of him more than the other way around.  As Jim notes, Hillary has options right now; she can run for governor in New York, or she can try another run at the Senate, if she doesn’t mind bumping Gillibrand out of her old seat.  Obama has curtailed her reach since she took the job, promoting UN Ambassador Susan Rice to a Cabinet-level position and appointing czars to bypass Hillary in other areas.

Obama needs Hillary more than the other way around, especially as his economic policies start to tank.  He needs a strong connection back to the DLC Democrats, which Hillary provides.  He also needs a fall person on foreign affairs when things get bad.  If there’s a split, it will damage Obama much more than Hillary, and it would set her up for a run at him in a 2012 primary, which may be her goal if Obama falls apart at the midterms.

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David Strom 6:01 PM on March 29, 2023