‘Guys’ trip’ raises questions about Obama’s 2016 choice — again

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Pals. (h/t @VP)

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(CNN) — The selfie. The “guys’ trip.” An endorsement?

Not quite.

President Barack Obama, who has never been less than glowing in public praise of his vice president, said in an interview aired Thursday that Joe Biden “will go down as one of the finest vice presidents in history” and has been “a great partner in everything that I do.”

But Obama stopped short — as he’ll likely do until a Democratic nominee emerges in 2016 — from saying he’d support Biden if he makes a third run for the White House.

“I suspect that there may be other potential candidates for 2016 who have been great friends and allies,” he told CBS News. “I know that we’ve got an extraordinary secretary of state who did great service for us and worked with me and Joe to help make the country safer.”

That “extraordinary” diplomat would be Hillary Clinton, the understood Democratic frontrunner whose every utterance is parsed for signs she’s closer to jumping back into the political fray.

As it happens, the last time Obama sat down with CBS for a joint interview was with Clinton as she prepared to step down as secretary of state shortly after the start of his second term. And just as he did Thursday, Obama heaped praise on the former rival.

“I think Hillary will go down as one of the finest secretary of states we’ve had,” he said — but again stopped short of offering his 2016 endorsement.

“I was literally inaugurated four days ago,” he said then. “And you’re talking about elections four years from now.”

Biden, who has said he’s considering making another go at the top job, similarly demurred about 2016 while the 2014 midterms are approaching. But he made clear on Wednesday that his boss wouldn’t be left in the dark when the decision is made.

“If I decide to run, believe me, this’ll be the first guy I talk to,” he said of Obama. “But that decision hasn’t been made for real, and there’s plenty of time to make them. We have a lot of work to do between now and November.”

If Biden hopes Obama can help him in 2016, Obama seems confident his vice president can help a little sooner, with midterm elections looming and Democrats anxious about the president’s signature health care reform law.

The White House had Biden on full display Wednesday, sending the vice president to Pennsylvania – his home state – to help Obama announce $600 million in new job training grants. As the so-called “guys’ trip” kicked off, his office was clicking publish on Biden’s first Instagram picture: a shot of the vice president’s trademark Ran-Ban aviators.

Later the account popped out a shot of Obama and Biden posing together in the back of a presidential limo, the pair’s toothy grins captioned by the White House with just the word “Pals.”

Obama has long depended on Biden to fire up traditional Democratic voting blocs like unions and blue-collar workers, using the vice president’s folksy style to supplement his own liberal loftiness.

That effort appears to still be in full swing as November’s midterm elections approach. Democrats, who have all but given up taking control of the House of Representatives, are now focused on retaining control of the Senate, where many vulnerable incumbents are looking warily at the prospect of campaigning with Obama.

Biden’s ratings among the public are close to Obama’s — both men stood at 49% unfavorable in a CNN/ORC poll from early March. But Democrats seem convinced the vice president can do more good than harm in the coming contests.

The Democratic National Committee revived Biden’s old twitter handle, @JoeBiden, earlier in April, hoping to amplify the party’s message to his 600,000 followers.

“Dusting off the Twitter handle for a big midterm election year. Let’s get to it, folks,” he wrote in the first message on the account in a year.


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