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Obama heaps praise on Clinton as both sidestep 2016 talk

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sidestepped questions about her presidential ambitions in 2016, though she was the beneficiary of effusive praise from her boss, President Barack Obama, in a new interview on Sunday.

Neither Obama nor Clinton would address the elephant in the room — whether the outgoing secretary of state, Obama's 2008 primary opponent, should seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 — in an interview aired Sunday on CBS's "60 Minutes."

"You guys in the press are incorrigible," a laughing Obama said in the interview, which was taped on Friday. "I was literally inaugurated four days ago. And you're talking about elections four years from now."

But the topic of a prospective second bid for the presidency by Clinton is already on the tongues of most political professionals of both parties. Clinton allowed a knowing chuckle at a congressional hearing last week when a Republican congressman, referring to her possible ambitions, said: "I wish you the best in your future endeavors — mostly."

Clinton leaves office as secretary of state arguably at the apex of her popularity; 56 percent of Americans expressed a positive opinion of the former first lady in January's NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, and she leaves office with a 69 percent approval rating.

But, in the rare joint interview with the president, Clinton refused to engage the speculation.

"I am still secretary of state. So I'm out of politics. And I'm forbidden from even hearing these questions," she said. 

Clinton nonetheless offered a coy morsel of what she may or may not decide to do in 2016. 

"I don't think, you know, either he [Obama] or I can make predictions about what's going to happen tomorrow or the next year," she said. 

Should she decide to run, though, Clinton's campaign might return to Sunday's "60 Minutes" interview for clips of Obama's overflowing praise to use in campaign ads. 

Obama, for instance, said that Clinton would go down in history "as one of the finest secretary of states we've had."

"I think everybody understands that Hillary's been you know, one of the most important advisors that I've had on a whole range of issues," Obama said at another point in the interview.

And the president even made a pronouncement that would have seemed unthinkable during the bitter 2008 primary campaign between the two former senators: "I consider Hillary a strong friend." (Clinton, for her part, described her relationship with the president as "very warm" and "close.")

"Look, that is just ancient history now," Clinton said of the animosity from the 2008 campaign. "And it's ancient history because of the kind of people we all are, but also we're professionals."

Still, as Clinton mulls her future options during the time she's expected to take to relax upon leaving office, other potential Democratic candidates might move forward with their own campaigns-in-waiting. 

That includes another administration heavyweight, Vice President Joe Biden, who's seen as likely to preserve his own option to seek the Democratic nomination in 2016. 

But lest Obama's praise for Clinton be interpreted as a tacit endorsement of his secretary of state over his vice president, the president heaped praise on Biden just a week ago, too. 

"One decision I know was absolutely correct -- absolutely spot on -- was my choice of vice president," Obama said Sunday at an inaugural reception. "I could not have a better partner than Joe Biden."