Obama Touts Democratic Unity in '16 Race

Obama Touts Democratic Unity in '16 Race
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President Obama harbors strong opinions about some of the positions Democratic presidential candidates have staked out along the campaign trail. But on Friday he said he’ll keep his views under wraps during what he said will be “a long campaign.”

The president, who has not been shy about reacting to Hillary Clinton’s doings in recent weeks, underscored Democratic unity rather than intraparty policy discord, and he complimented the five candidates who debated one another Tuesday in Las Vegas.

“I was impressed with all of them,” he said, referring to Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and former Sens. Jim Webb of Virginia and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island.

Speaking to the press at a joint appearance with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Obama offered no new information about whether he believes Vice President Joe Biden will enter the race. Democrats are urging Biden to decide swiftly, after months of public deliberations that have kept Clinton and the rest of the field guessing.

Obama is widely perceived to favor his onetime secretary of state becoming the Democratic nominee. Former members of his staff work for her campaign and are helping to raise money for her bid. And the Obama-Clinton network keeps in close communication with former colleagues inside the West Wing.

But the president is eager to cast the Democratic aspirants as “95 percent” in agreement on issues his party seeks to contrast with the GOP field, including income inequality, immigration, climate change, and international diplomacy.

“The vision of the Democratic Party that I fought for is one that is broadly shared by all the candidates. There are going to be areas where they differ at any given point,” he said.

Asked specifically what he thought of Clinton following her announcement that she opposes a 12-nation trade pact she once favored (and without having read the finalized text, which has not been released), Obama demurred, directing reporters to question the frontrunner instead.

“It is natural and proper for candidates to run on their own vision and their own platform,” he said during the East Room news conference.

Obama then delivered a vigorous defense of the Trans-Pacific Partnership his administration helped negotiate, intended as an economic bulwark to rival China’s global economic influence. The next step is to get the TPP ratified by Congress before he leaves office, and Obama predicted his administration would succeed, despite opposition from Democrats who fear the loss of American jobs.

The president’s reticence about commenting on Clinton’s views and activities occurred in the wake of his doing just that.

He came to Clinton’s defense last week during a CBS “60 Minutes” interview, asserting that her use of a private email server as secretary of state was a mistake, but posed no national security threat to the country. Obama’s conclusion that Clinton was out of the woods when it comes to potential violations of laws and procedures governing classified material rendered a powerful verdict, even as the FBI continues to conduct an independent investigation.

Under fire from Republicans, the White House tried to soften the president’s declaration that Clinton, at worst, may have exercised nothing more than poor judgment. During the interview Obama said: “We don’t get the impression that, here, there was purposely efforts to hide something or to squirrel away information.”

Clinton will testify publicly Oct. 22 before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, where Republican lawmakers are expected to ask about her unusual email practices, as well as information tied to the deaths of four Americans in Libya in September 2012 while she headed the State Department.

Obama, in another instance of weighing in when asked by reporters about recent campaign positions staked out by Clinton, rejected the idea of creating a no-fly zone over Syria, a proposal she favors.

Stepping back from the 2016 race, the president said Friday he will conduct his business, and the Democrats who seek to follow him can conduct theirs.

“I will have a vote like everybody else as a citizen, and that ballot is private,” Obama said. “I don't have to share my views about that right now because I think it's important for the American people to make up their own decisions.”

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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