Try as he might, President Obama can’t quite tame the political bear that is former President Bill Clinton. If Clinton isn’t being used against Obama disingenuously by conservatives, the 42nd president is gently chiding the economic policies of the 44th president in a book.
And so it was Friday that Obama tapped the still-popular Clinton to help him unveil his latest initiative to create jobs, while at the same time going through great pains to ensure that Clinton stayed securely in his lane.
The pair toured a Washington office building before making remarks to reporters, with Obama announcing a $4 billion investment in making private and federal office buildings more energy efficient. Clinton spoke first, hailing the initiative; Obama followed up, saying it would help spur the sluggish economic recovery.
So far, so good.
But after Obama wrapped up his remarks and began shaking hands, Fox TV White House correspondent Ed Henry, sitting with about 20 reporters who were not allowed to ask questions, shouted out a question to Clinton: Did he have any advice for Obama about the economy?
Obama, who had started to shake hands with Clinton, looked in Henry’s direction and tried to dismiss the question with a joke.
“Oh, he gives me advice all the time!” Obama said, as he tried to keep moving to leave.
But Clinton’s eyes grew large. He has never met a microphone he didn’t like. He was temporarily penned in by Obama, but no matter, he deftly moved around the president and got to the lectern.
Reporters perked up. Obama, not so much.
This might have brought momentary flashbacks for Obama to the impromptu joint news conference last December that he and Clinton staged in the White House briefing room — the one where Clinton stole the microphone, and the show, after Obama had to leave to meet Clinton’s wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
So on Friday, as Bill Clinton began speaking, Obama, looking uncomfortable, stood on the side with his hands cusped in front of him and his expression rather tight-lipped. To the possible dismay of the media, the former president didn’t say anything particularly provocative, instead spending a couple more minutes rehashing the same points he had made.
But Clinton certainly seemed at home in the presidential spotlight. At one point, he leaned an elbow on the lectern, crossed one leg jauntily in front of the other and waved a creased folder in the air to make a point.
But this time, Obama was determined not to let history repeat itself. When Clinton finished, another reporter tried to shout out another question, but the 44th president had had enough.
“Thanks guys,” Obama said, turning to go and, this time, making sure 42 came with him.
Later, however, Clinton’s shadow still dogged Obama. At his daily press briefing, Press Secretary Jay Carney was told by one reporter that the joint appearance had resurrected rumors that Obama would dump Vice President Joseph Biden and add Hillary Clinton to his ticket for 2012.
That rumor comes “only from among people who know nothing about what they speak,” Carney said derisively.
Carney paused, then added with a nod to the 42nd president’s appeal: “Do you mean Bill Clinton or Secretary Clinton?”