Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton returned to the White House on Monday for a private lunch of chicken and jambalaya with President Obama that his spokesman described as an opportunity for friends to catch up.
“It’s largely friendship that’s on the agenda for the lunch today,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. “So it’s not a working lunch as much as it is an opportunity for the two who saw each other on a pretty frequent basis over the course of the last four years to get a chance to catch up.”
On Tuesday, it will be Vice President Biden’s turn to catch up with Clinton. The two potential political rivals will meet for breakfast at the Naval Observatory, Biden’s official residence in Washington, aides to the two said.
Biden and Clinton have been friendly for decades, having served together in the Senate and worked side by side on national security matters during Obama’s first term. Both ran for president in 2008 and lost the Democratic nomination to Obama, and they would be rivals again if they run in 2016.
For Clinton’s lunch with Obama, the White House chef whipped up a meal of grilled chicken, pasta jambalaya and salad, Earnest said. The two dined al fresco — on the shaded patio outside the Oval Office. The purpose, Earnest added, was “chiefly social.”
The lunch date comes amid a flurry of interest in Clinton’s potential candidacy. Over the weekend, NBC’s entertainment division announced that it is developing a miniseries on her political life starring Diane Lane. On Monday, CNN said it has hired documentary filmmaker Charles H. Ferguson to direct a feature-length movie about Clinton’s professional and personal life.
Clinton has sought to remain above the political fray, giving paid and pro-bono speeches nationwide and working with her family’s charitable foundation, even as her allies have begun laying the groundwork for a 2016 campaign.
Clinton’s lunch with Obama came together after they saw each other in April at the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, according to a person familiar with the meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss their conversation. In Dallas, the two discussed getting together for lunch. With Obama traveling out of the country for much of the early summer, they settled on Monday as a date.
Clinton popped into national security adviser Susan E. Rice’s office to say hello during her regular meeting with Secretary of State John F. Kerry, a senior administration official said. Clinton missed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who left the meeting just before Clinton stepped into Rice’s office, the official said.
Earnest discouraged reporters from reading anything political into the Clinton-Obama get-together. But any meeting between the two — who were bitter rivals in 2008 but developed a working partnership once Clinton joined Obama’s administration — is heavily scrutinized for any clues about the state of their relationship and her presidential ambitions.
Did they discuss whether Clinton wants to succeed Obama? Earnest said the 2016 campaign is “still quite a ways away,” although some of Obama’s top campaign aides are working with the Ready for Hillary super PAC.
Mitch Stewart and Jeremy Bird, who ran Obama’s vaunted field operations in 2008 and 2012, signed on as consultants to the pro-Clinton group. Meanwhile, Obama’s longtime political strategist, David Axelrod, touted Clinton’s chances at the nomination this month on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“I think that Hillary Clinton probably will be the candidate,” he said.
It is likely that foreign affairs came up during Obama’s lunch with Clinton, who stepped down as the nation’s top diplomat on Feb. 1. Did they talk about the diplomatic dispute with Russia over fugitive national security leaker Edward Snowden, who is seeking asylum there? Or the tumult in Egypt?
What about the tumult closer to home, where the New York mayoral campaign of former congressman Anthony Weiner (D) — whose wife, Huma Abedin, is a longtime Clinton confidante — is ensnared in a sexting scandal?
Earnest didn’t say.
But he said the peace talks begun Monday in Washington between Israelis and Palestinians were likely to come up. “I’d be surprised if it didn’t,” Earnest said.
Kerry arrived at the White House about noon Monday for his meeting around the same time as Clinton, but apparently did not join the president for lunch.
“I think the table was set for two,” Earnest said.