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How to tell what Hillary Clinton is thinking about 2016

Everyone in the political world is looking for evidence that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will run for president in 2016. Pundits have dissected and analyzed her recent forays back into public life - releasing a video announcing her support for same-sex marriage and two speeches at events supporting women's rights - for signs that she is positioning herself for another campaign. But for better intelligence about what Clinton is thinking, don't look at the candidate. Look at the people around her.

Clinton has been surrounded by a small group of loyal aides for years - staffers who have been with her since her time as first lady, senator from New York, 2008 presidential candidate, and secretary of state. With Clinton now a private citizen, these loyalists face a choice: do they stay with their boss as she works the speaker's circuit and writes her memoir, or do they move on to other jobs in the public or private sector. What they decide could say a lot about Clinton's mindset.

Right now, two of Clinton's closest aides are spearheading her transition into private life. Philippe Reines, who has worked for Clinton since her time in the Senate, and Huma Abedin, who started as an intern in the Bill Clinton White House, are both still on the payroll. In an email, Reines declined to say whether he viewed his current position as temporary. Abedin did not respond to a request for comment.

If staffers like Reines and Abedin jump ship to lucrative private sector jobs, it could be a sign that Clinton is leaning against a run. Corporate positions, with their complicated pay structure and potential ties to lobbyists, would complicate a later decision to work on a Clinton presidential campaign.

Other members of Clinton World to watch for include Democratic strategist James Carville, who last week penned a letter supporting the super PAC Ready for Hillary, and some of her former campaign advisors such as Mandy Grunwald and Ann Lewis. Do they push for a Clinton candidacy or start to get to know other potential Democratic 2016 hopefuls?

These moves are likely to play out over many months, or even years. But if you're looking for tea leaves, the Clinton loyalists are a good place to start.

Now here's what else the 2016 contenders have been up to this week:

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.: On Thursday, the Florida senator voted with 30 other senators to try to block debate on gun control legislation. His opposition to the legislation has earned him the ire of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's non-profit pushing for gun control. It announced Wednesday it would run TV ads in Florida attacking Rubio for his position. Fellow 2016 contender Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., also voted to block the bill. On immigration, Rubio and the rest of the "gang of eight" senators negotiating a comprehensive immigration bill also moved closer to announcing a final agreement.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.: Wednesday, Paul visited Howard University to talk about how the Republican Party can reach out to African-American voters. He asked the audience at the historically black college to be open to his philosophy on education, foreign policy, and other issues. But Paul faced skepticism from the audience over comments he made during his 2010 senate race about the 1964 Civil Rights Act. At one point a protester unfurled a banner that read "white supremacy."

Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J.: The New Jersey governor returned from a family vacation this week to the scandal over fired Rutgers men's basketball coach Mike Rice. In a press conference on Monday, he called Rice's conduct "reprehensible" and said if he had seen the tape of Rice berating and hitting his players, Rice would have been fired earlier. But Christie did stand by Rutgers president Robert Barchi and said it was time to "move on."

Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La.: Jindal faced a major setback this week in his push to eliminate the Louisiana state income tax. In a speech to the legislature on the first day of its session, Jindal said he was shelving the tax plan that he spent much of the year promoting. The plan would have repealed the state income tax and replaced it with a higher sales tax and other measures. Jindal said Monday he still wanted to repeal the income tax, but would let the legislature bring him a proposal instead. In early primary state news, it was reported yesterday that Jindal will visit New Hampshire next month for a fundraiser for state Senate Republicans.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.: The former vice presidential nominee gave some of his most candid comments about the 2012 election to National Review this week. Lamenting what could have been, Ryan spoke about working with Republican nominee Mitt Romney's transition team on what the first 200 days of a Romney administration would look like. "Very few people have such a clear view of the whole alteration of trajectory that has occurred," he said. "And that's obviously . . . I won't say it's despairing, it's distressing, I'm distressed." And last night Ryan was the keynote speaker at the annual for the anti-abortion group the Susan B. Anthony List. He told the group Republicans should stick to their anti-abortion values. "Our critics say we should abandon our pro-life beliefs," Ryan said. "But that would only demoralize our voters."

Fmr. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.: The former Pennsylvania senator and presidential candidate continues to give speeches that fuel speculation he wants to run again in 2016. On Tuesday, Santorum delivered a foreign policy address at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. And ahead of an appearance this coming Monday in Iowa, Santorum gave an interview to the Des Moines Register in which he said that it would be "suicidal" for the Republican Party to embrace same-sex marriage.

Ben Carson: The Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon announced this week he would withdraw as the school's graduation speaker after students protested comments the doctor made about same-sex marriage. In a Fox News interview last month, Carson seemed to compare same-sex marriage to bestiality or pedophilia. Carson has been mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate since he gave a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in February criticizing President Obama's policies.

Vice President Joe Biden: He continued to be President Obama's point man on the push for gun control legislation. On Wednesday, Biden gave a speech at the White House and on Thursday he appeared on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." His message is the same as the President's: the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre and other episodes of gun violence deserve a full debate on stricter gun measures.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, D-Md.: The Maryland governor finished up a dizzying legislative session by signing 152 bills into law on Tuesday. Among his victories: repeal of the death penalty, a strict gun control law, a transportation bill that included an increase in the gas tax, a new subsidy for offshore wind farming, and an expansion of early voting.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y.: Cuomo is no fan of the gun legislation taking shape in the U.S. Senate. In a radio interview Wednesday, Cuomo said the compromise to enhance background checks was "only better than nothing." Like Maryland, New York also passed a strict new gun control law in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo.: The Colorado governor traveled this week to Israel on what he described as a "personal" trip that nonetheless stoked speculation about his ambitions. While in the country, Hickenlooper does plan to meet with Israeli officials.

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