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Family Feud: Hillary Clinton Gives new Fodder to an Old Narrative

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US President Barack Obama shares a laugh with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as he arrives to address a joint session of Congress on his embattled healthcare reform plan at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on September 9, 2009. Obama, whose approval ratings have taken a hit, hopes to regain control of healthcare reform, one of his top legislative priorities. JEWEL SAMAD / AFP - Getty Images

Well, that didn’t take long. Less than 48 hours after The Atlantic published Hillary Clinton’s critical comments about Obama’s foreign policy, she walked them back. Spokesman Nick Merrill said in a statement that Clinton called the president to “make sure he knows that nothing she said was an attempt to attack him, his policies, or his leadership,” adding that the two will “hug it out” in Martha’s Vineyard tonight. As we’ve noted, Clinton’s always been more hawkish than the president, but the handling of the interview and this apology just seem like more politically head-scratching decisions as she continues her book tour. The bottom line: This is not the first time Clinton and Obama are going to have a public split as Democrats transition from one standard-bearer to another. But is every one of those moments going to be as tortured as this one?

New fodder for the old narrative of the opportunistic Clintons

One of the biggest criticisms of the Clintons over the years has been the perception that they’re political opportunists. Amid headlines about Obama’s foreign policy numbers at all-time lows, Clinton slams him on just that issue? It’s an easy peg. Regardless of whether Clinton was being willfully calculating or not, this episode will play into the same old narrative. Consider Maureen Dowd (true, no friend to the Clintons) just skewering her on this point in the NYT: “With the diplomatic finesse of a wrecking ball, the former diplomat gave an interview to The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, a hawk, in a calculated attempt to be tough and show that, as a Democratic woman, she’s not afraid to use power.”

Family feud

Clinton’s comments got a TON of play Monday and Tuesday (with the slow August news cycle partly to blame, by the way) and this conflict was also just starting to look like very bad electoral politics for Democrats. It gave Republicans the opportunity for a one-two punch: highlight factions within the president’s party while also gleefully lashing Clinton to Obama’s unpopularity. Former Obama right hand man David Axelrod prodded Clinton on Twitter with a not-so-subtle reminder to Dems of Clinton’s Iraq authorization vote. And progressives got fired up too; just look at the wording of a MoveOn.org statement warning that Clinton and other Democrats should “think long and hard” about backing policies “advocated by right-wing war hawks.” If every split between Obama and Clinton is like this, it ain’t going to be healthy for the party.

And the coverage won’t stop

Merrill’s suggestion that Clinton and Obama will “hug it out” is hardly going to make coverage of potential splits between the two pols dissipate. The two are both slated to attend a “social gathering” tonight at the home of Vernon Jordan in Martha’s Vineyard. The focus on their personal relationship helps detract from their policy differences, sure, but it’s also a reminder that Obama has done plenty to boost her personally and politically – even at the expense of his vice president, by the way.

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About last night

In Connecticut, Tom Foley easily won the GOP’s gubernatorial nod, setting up a rematch of that 2010 brawl against Dan Malloy. And in Minnesota, state party officials notched a victory with their favored candidate, Jeff Johnson, beating back three GOP challengers for the chance to run against incumbent Democrat Gov. Mark Dayton. First-time candidate Mike McFadden strolled to victory in the GOP primary to face Sen. Al Franken. And in Wisconsin, the November ballot is set with Mary Burke and incumbent Gov. Scott Walker ready to go into full general election mode – while the Sixth District race to replace Tom Petri is still up in the air.

And lastly, many Americans could get an alarming surprise in their mailboxes this week

As Republicans try to get health care back into the midterm conversation, here’s a headline that could help them out. The Washington Post reports that over 300,000 people in three dozen states will receive letters from federal health officials warning them that their coverage will be cut off if they don’t provide proof of their citizenship or immigration status. Recipients will only have until September 5 to send documents to show they’re eligible for their health coverage. BUT this may not be a total slam-dunk for the GOP; after all, making sure undocumented immigrants don’t have access to Obamacare was a big Republican talking point during the health care debate.

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