Hillary Clinton lunch date with Obama: three theories on why

Hillary Clinton and President Obama are having a private lunch Monday at the White House. Oh, to be a fly on the wall. Here are some ideas on what they'll discuss.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives at the White House in Washington, Monday, July 29. It's the most talked-about lunch in the nation's capital. President Obama and Ms. Clinton are dining privately at the White House Monday.

Washington is buzzing about a cryptic line on the president’s daily schedule Monday:

12:00PM         THE PRESIDENT and former Secretary Clinton meet for lunch

                        Private Dining Room

                        Closed Press

Not even a mention of “Hillary” or “Hillary Rodham” or the State Department, her former perch – just “former Secretary Clinton,” the bare minimum required to distinguish her from her husband. Maybe the White House thought if it used fewer words, the lunch date would slide below the radar. But no, on a slow news day, it’s a talker.

Since the former secretary of State stepped down from her post on Feb. 1, she has been traveling the country delivering speeches, both paid and pro bono. We’re also sure she’s taken a little time to rest, after four grueling years as the most-traveled secretary of State in terms of countries visited.

And she’s widely thought to be considering another run for president. If not, she surely would not have allowed some A-list Democrats to start a "super political-action committee," called Ready for Hillary.

So in the absence of hard information, we thought we’d float some theories on what the two might discuss.

The 2016 presidential race. Yes, it’s super early, but both major parties’ nomination races are well under way. President Obama’s understudy, Vice President Joe Biden, is clearly interested. But Clinton would clear the field if she jumped in. She just has to decide if she’s ready for another go at cracking what she called the “highest and hardest glass ceiling.”

How can Mr. Obama help her decide? He can bring her up to speed on what presidential politics are like in the age of 24/7 social media – already a factor in 2007 and 2008, but not like today – and 24/7 political coverage. Remember, Politico launched on Jan. 23, 2007, just three days after Clinton announced she was forming an exploratory committee for a presidential campaign. Now Politico (and BuzzFeed and all the other new politically obsessed sites) is a force to be reckoned with. No tidbit is too small.

Obama and Clinton recovered from their epic nomination battle long ago. The memory of Clinton denouncing Obama – “Shame on you, Barack Obama” – over alleged lies in campaign literature is fading. And every president wants to be succeeded by someone from his party, so it’s in Obama’s interest to help her run a successful campaign, if she goes for it. Obama may even openly encourage her to get in.

Foreign policy. Obama certainly has a full plate, and Clinton can obviously speak knowledgeably about the range of issues he faces – Egypt, Syria, Russia, Edward Snowden, the Keystone XL pipeline, the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that begin in Washington Monday evening. John Kerry, of course, is now Obama’s secretary of State, and Clinton’s task as a “former” is to be quiet and let the new guy do his job. Thus a closed-press lunch meeting is the perfect forum for discussion, away from the cameras.

One more topic on foreign policy: The issue of Benghazi – the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on US diplomatic facilities in the Libyan city that left four Americans dead, including the ambassador – is still a thorn in Obama’s side. And it happened on Clinton’s watch, making it fodder for political opponents in a second Clinton presidential campaign. Maybe it’s on the lunch menu.

Life. To paraphrase Sigmund Freud, sometimes a lunch is just a lunch. Maybe it’s just two friends breaking bread together, catching up on how they and their families are doing. Obama’s daughters are growing up – Malia is a teenager, and Sasha is almost there – and Clinton has experience raising a teenage girl in the White House. How did the Clintons handle all the normal teen issues – clothes, makeup, boys, parties, driving?

We might also be tempted to suggest that Clinton could offer advice on what it’s like to run for office as a sitting first lady, as she did when she ran for US Senate in New York in 2000. Certainly Michelle Obama would be a formidable prospect to run, say, against Sen. Mark Kirk (R) of Illinois in 2016. But when asked, Mrs. Obama adamantly rejects the idea of running for anything. For now, we believe her. 

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