Forget an awkward beer summit, Obama honors Clinton with Freedom medal

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But would they drink beer together?

President Obama will award former President Bill Clinton the Medal of Freedom on Wednesday at the White House, a public display of admiration belied by the enduring tensions between the two men.


PHOTOS: Best Frenemies: Bill Clinton and President Obama


Mr. Obama will bestow the nation’s highest civilian honor on Mr. Clinton for the work during his presidency and, more recently, as head of the Clinton Global Initiative. Fifteen other honorees will attend the ceremony in the East Room, but all eyes will be on the president and his sometime nemesis, the former president.

It will be their first face-to-face encounter since Mr. Clinton publicly encouraged a Democratic rebellion last week against a portion of Obamacare and urged Mr. Obama to make good on his promise that Americans could keep their health insurance plans. The comeuppance fueled speculation that the Clintons are starting to distance themselves from the increasingly unpopular Mr. Obama in preparation for a presidential bid by Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016.

“The White House told me they don’t have any problem with what [Mr. Clinton] said; I also don’t believe them,” said a Democrat with ties to the West Wing. “There will always be a suspicion among Democrats that [the Clintons] are only in it for themselves.”

But an adviser in the Clinton White House, Lanny Davis, predicted that the episode last week will not mar Wednesday’s ceremony.

“Not only is it not going to lead to tension, I think President Obama welcomed it,” Mr. Davis said of Mr. Clinton’s remarks on Obamacare. He said the president eventually took Mr. Clinton’s advice by allowing some insurers to continue offering, for one year, health care plans that don’t meet standards under the Affordable Care Act.

Mr. Clinton left office in 2001, but his shadow looms large over Mr. Obama’s presidency. The former president is more popular than Mr. Obama, whose job approval rating is plummeting in his second term.

The friction between the president and Mr. Clinton goes back to at least 2007, when Mr. Obama was running against Mrs. Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. Mr. Clinton accused Mr. Obama of embellishing his opposition to the Iraq War, calling it “the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.”

That was the same primary in which Mr. Obama coolly described Mrs. Clinton during a debate as “likable enough.”

Mrs. Clinton served as secretary of state in Mr. Obama’s first term and, by most accounts, the two worked well together. But the relationship between Mr. Obama and her husband has remained prickly at times.

When the two men got together for a round of golf at Andrews Air Force Base in September 2011, they didn’t finish the 18 holes, according to an account in the book “Double Down: Game Change 2012,” by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. Mr. Obama reportedly grew annoyed that Mr. Clinton talked too much and didn’t take the game seriously, taking numerous “mulligans,” or second shots without a penalty.

“I like him in doses,” Mr. Obama told an aide after walking off the course.

The president is said to seek companions for visits with Mr. Clinton, rather than spend time alone with him.

But Mr. Obama recognized that he needed Mr. Clinton for his re-election campaign last year because the former president excels at explaining complicated subjects, such as the economy and health care, to large audiences.

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