No, that's not a flashback to 1993: Hillary Clinton, current Secretary of State and former president Bill Clinton are meeting separately with president Barack Obama to discuss foreign affairs. Hillary, fresh off a female-focused ten day trip to sub-Saharan Africa, is keeping her standard weekly appointment at the White House, while her husband will have a special session with Obama and his senior staff, to share the gritty details of his 20-hour rescue mission to North Korea earlier in the month.
After talking about the current state of affairs in seven African countries, it's not clear if Hillary joined in the later afternoon meeting with Obama and her husband in the White House Situation Room. She may not feel the need—Bill, who as an ex-president is entitled to the same security updates as the sitting president, has no doubt already briefed theSecretary of State on his harrowing excursion to meet the reclusive and increasingly dangerous Kim Jong-Il. But after Obama catches up with the program north of the DMZ, there's still one subject that would be on all three minds: health care reform.
While both Clintons have become experts in geostrategy since leaving 1600 Pennsylvania, both Bill and Hillary are likely bursting with advice on the national debate over how to solve the problem of skyrocketing premiums, inefficient care and a nation's worth of uninsured. Obama faces a tense moment—perhaps a turning point—on what was once the Clintons' undisputed turf. He would likely relish the guidance of these seasoned hands, still "two for the price of one"—this time on the pressing issues that face America, inside its borders and out.
And while the relationship has appeared tenuous in the past, it's certainly not the first time that Obama has taken a page from Bill: Just this week, he announced that the infamous Defense of Marriage Act, which discriminates against gay Americans, should be repealed:
in an unusual turn, Obama issued a statement Monday affirming that he would continue to seek repeal of the law, which has been upheld by federal judges in Florida and Washington state. The president said that he would "examine and implement measures that will help extend rights and benefits to (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) couples under existing law."
This stand came days after Clinton publicly expressed regret for both his "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" military policy, and signing DOMA into law in 1996. The DOMA example, if anything, is a big reminder that this ain't the 1990s, and that the political climate in Washington is more open to progressive reform—on health care and much more—than even Obama realizes.
UPDATE: The White House releases this statement about Bill's meeting—which Hillary didn't join:
President Obama today met in the Situation Room with former President Clinton for nearly forty minutes to thank him in person for undertaking the humanitarian mission to secure the release of two American citizens who had been detained by North Korea for over four months. Former President Clinton described the process, including a meeting with Kim Jong-il, that culminated in the North Korean leadership granting "special amnesty" to the two journalists and permitting them to return to the United States. President Obama said he was gratified that the Americans had been safely reunited with their families. After the meeting, President Obama invited President Clinton to the Oval Office to continue their conversation for another half hour.
No word on what was discussed.
Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.