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Why Hillary Clinton’s Ideas Are So Similar to Obama’s

Image: US President Barack Obama visits Myanmar

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wave as they arrive at Yangon International Airport in Myanmar in November 2012. LYNN BO BO / EPA

If you’re trying to figure out Hillary Clinton’s position on a key issue, often there’s an easy way to know: it’s usually the same as President Barack Obama’s.

From community college (make it free) to ending the U.S. embargo with Cuba (a good idea) to going around Republicans in Congress and using executive power to change U.S. policy on immigration (yes) to creating a Medicare-for-all style health system (no) to raising the minimum wage (yes, but not to $15 an hour), Clinton’s stances have closely mirrored those of Obama.

The president refuses to say if he supports the creation of the Keystone XL pipeline and vetoed a bill authorizing it earlier this year because he said he wanted to wait until the end of a review by the State Department. Clinton won’t take a position either.

Related: Inside Hillary Clinton's Big New College Proposal

One of the biggest differences between the country’s two leading Democrats is on trade and even there it is not large: Obama is a strong supporter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sweeping multinational trade deal which most congressional Democrats and the party's other presidential candidates oppose.

Clinton has so far not taken a firm position on it.

It’s not surprising that two Democrats agree on many issues, but the overlap between the pair is striking. The similarity likely illustrates an awareness from Clinton that distancing herself from Obama would not help her in the Democrat primary. It also reflects the deep connections between Obama’s team and Clinton’s.

“President Obama and Secretary Clinton have shared the experience of governing. They both know that for policy platforms to be implemented, they have to work their way through Washington's governing process. Neither can afford simply to pander,” said Ari Ratner, who worked on Obama’s 2008 campaign and then served as a policy advisor in the State Department under Clinton.

Many of Clinton’s top advisers were deeply involved in some of Obama’s top policy achievements.

Clinton policy adviser Neera Tanden and Clinton director of state campaigns and political engagement Marlon Marshall were a part of the conception and implementation of Obamacare. Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta helped craft the president’s initiatives to combat climate change. Before joining Clinton’s campaign as a senior policy adviser,Jake Sullivan, had been one of Obama’s chief negotiators with Iran.

When Sullivan recently said that in his own “personal view” the nuclear agreement the U.S and other nations reached with Iran was “the best and most effective way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon," he was in some ways defending his own work.

All of their views on these issues are likely to inform Clinton’s.

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Clinton herself was also a top Obama adviser as secretary of state. She has bragged about her role in crafting the sanctions against Iran that helped lead to the nuclear agreement. With almost the entire Republican Party against it and many top Democrats either opposed or only cautiously in support, Obama has been on a lonely crusade to build support for the nuclear agreement.

But Clinton has joined him.

“I’m hoping that the agreement is finally approved,” Clinton said in a campaign stop in New Hampshire on Monday. She added, “if it’s not, all bets are off. You know the Europeans, the Russians, the Chinese, they’re going to say ‘you know we stuck with the Americans, we agreed with the Americans, we hammered out this agreement. I guess their president can’t make foreign policy.”

“That’s a very bad signal to send in a quickly-moving and oftentimes dangerous world,” she added.

Related: Sec. Kerry Fiercely Defends Iran Nuclear Deal to Congress

Republicans have seized on Clinton’s embrace of Obama’s policies, with Jeb Bush and other GOP candidates often blasting the “Obama-Clinton foreign policy,” linking the two Democrats closely.

The full-throated support by Clinton for many of Obama’s policies also illustrates the similarities in ideology between the two. That was clear even in 2008, when they had a bitter primary campaign against one another but largely agreed on most major policy issues.

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It’s a marked contrast to the last second-term president.

During the 2008 GOP primary, many of the Republican candidates, while not naming George W. Bush, criticized his administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina, the No Child Left Behind education law and increases in government spending during his tenure in office.

Clinton, on the other hand, regularly praises Obama administration proposals and the president himself. Free community college is the kind of big-government policy Clinton could have avoided if she wanted to cast herself in the model of her centrist husband, instead of the more liberal Obama.

She has instead embraced the idea and proposed an even more costly expansion of it.

And she has been very complementary of the president personally.

“President Obama delivered a eulogy that sounded as though it had come straight from angels,” Clinton told the National Urban League earlier this month, referring to a speech Obama gave in the wake of the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.

Related: Clinton Pledges to Take Immigration Actions 'Even Further'

Obama’s executive orders have angered Republicans, and Clinton’s embrace of that approach will allow them to cast her as a divisive figure, ready to go-it-alone on policies like the current president.

Obama has largely kept at bay the liberal coalition, led by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen and 2016 candidate Bernie Sanders, that wants the Democratic Party to adopt a more unabashedly progressive approach. Clinton is doing the same during her campaign.

National Nurses United, the largest union of nurses in America, endorsed Sanders this week over Clinton.

As reported by the liberal website ThinkProgress, the nurses group wanted the Democratic candidates to commit to a series of ideas that included a Medicare-for-all health care system, a tax on all Wall Street transactions, stopping the development of the Keystone pipeline and opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Sanders endorsed all four of those ideas, Clinton was not willing to embrace any of them.

Neither has Obama.

“We'd love it if Hillary had Bernie's politics, his unequivocal opposition to a dreadful Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact that would expand big pharma's monopoly control over high priced drugs and hand corporations increased ability to overturn public protections. And if she opposed the toxic polluting, climate disaster known as the Keystone XL pipeline,” wrote Nurses United Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro, in a piece in the Huffington Post.

Clinton Stops Short of Fully Supporting Iran Deal, Calls It An 'Important Step' 0:39

Clinton advisers say her strong backing of the president in part reflects that the former secretary of state is not taking the Democratic primary for granted.

Sanders is drawing strong support from whites and liberals in the Democratic Party, making it very important for Clinton to maintain her strength among blacks, who would be wary of Clinton if she was a sharp critic of the president.

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And even in the general election, Clinton advisers are planning a campaign that would target some of the young and minority voters who powered Obama to victory, making the risk of Clinton being cast as the third Obama term worth the potential reward of getting his voters behind her.

“I think she has decided, she’s going to be policy-heavy, that popular policies [with Democrats], plus a strong liberal coalition can carry me across the finish line, even though I’m not an especially gifted campaigner,” said Ramesh Ponnuru, a conservative policy expert and writer who has met with several of the 2016 Republican candidates.

He added, “Obama’s a popular figure among Democratic voters, so there’s no point in distancing herself from him now.”

Related: Hillary Clinton's Popularity Drops Sharply in NBC/WSJ Poll

Clinton, to be sure, has offered new ideas during her campaign that were not previously Obama administration policies. She has called for raising capital gains taxes on investments held for under six years, in an attempt to get Wall Street companies to focus less on short-term earnings. Her higher education plan would guarantee students could attend a four-year college and graduate without debt from tuition, going beyond the president’s proposals.

And in a general election, Democrats expect Clinton will take more steps to draw distance between herself and the president.

So far though, Obama and Clinton are in sync on policy, and officials on both sides say that is not an accident. Obama, according to aides, is deeply invested in being succeeded by another Democrat.

He and his team are unlikely to sharply attack Clinton, the way they unloaded on New York Sen. Charles Schumer, another Democrat, after Schumer announced his opposition to the Iran agreement.

Obama’s embrace of Clinton, “keeps the former Obama team, not all of whom are totally invested in her, from mouthing off,” one former Obama administration official told NBC News.