President Obama thinks that picking Joe Biden to serve as his vice president is the best decision he ever made, but he's not endorsing Biden in a race to succeed him. He has made many "warm" comments about Hillary Rodham Clinton's performance as his secretary of State too, but he's not endorsing her either.
At this point, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest says he won't speculate about whether the president will endorse anyone at all in the Democratic primary. But neither would he rule an endorsement out.
Such is the perilous line the White House is treading as Biden contemplates a late entry into the race for the Democratic nomination against Clinton, setting up a possible family fight that would put the sitting president square in the middle.
It's far from a done deal that Biden will jump in the race. He would have big obstacles to surmount, such as trying to enlist donors months after Clinton started locking down commitments from fellow Democrats.
But Biden can claim credit for many of the Obama administration's successes. Earnest acknowledged as much Monday, returning to the White House briefing room after a two-week break during Obama's summer vacation to fend off a backlog of questions about which top advisor Obama would prefer to see as the Democratic nominee in 2016.
"There is so much that has been accomplished over the last six or seven years that President Obama is enormously proud of," Earnest said, "and a large portion of it would not have been possible without the wisdom, counsel and leadership of Vice President Biden."
Then again, he said, "the president has spoken at quite some length about the appreciation, respect and admiration he has for the service of Secretary Clinton, particularly in her four years as secretary of State."
"Just not his best decision," observed a reporter.
"All of you and -- and your coverage of some of the president's comments about Secretary Clinton -- have noted how warm those comments were," Earnest quickly replied.
The awkward doublespeak could go on for a while. Biden aides have said he'll make a decision about running by the end of summer (a period Earnest noted Monday could last another month). The first Democratic debate is Oct. 13.
Obama and Biden were lunching at the time of the briefing, but Earnest indicated he'd give no hints afterward about what they talked about.
"Let me just put all my cards on the table here," Earnest said, before promising to do exactly the opposite. "I am not going to be in the position of confirming individual meetings that the vice president participates in."