MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
While Congress is consumed with politics surrounding the budget, in other quarters there's a lot of murmuring about the next presidential race. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is hosting the Clinton Foundation's annual gathering, and people there are looking for signs. Will she or won't she run for president in 2016?
Here's Mara Liasson.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: When she left the Obama administration, she said she just wanted to sleep late and walk her dog. But that hasn't happened for Hillary. She's thrown herself into the work of her family's foundation, which gives her the ability to add to an already formidable network of donors.
The Ready for Hillary SuperPAC today announced that it has received its one-millionth Facebook supporter. And she's kept a packed public schedule of travel and speeches, including this morning at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting.
HILLARY CLINTON: As women have been given or gained the chance to work, learn and participate, their economic, social and political contributions have multiplied. Yet, for all this progress, we're still a long way from the goal of full and equal participation.
LIASSON: Full and equal participation - hmmm, as in the first female president of the United States? Even her most anodyne remarks are examined for possible clues. Some Democrats lament the fact that Hillary has chosen to keep such a high profile so early. But the fact is it's probably impossible for her to do anything else because, as strategist Geoff Garin points out, everything she says gets a tremendous amount of attention even if she says virtually nothing.
GEOFF GARIN: The media mania about Hilary Clinton is not going to go away in the next year and a half. Everything she does and every move she makes will be overly analyzed and probably wrongly analyzed.
LIASSON: Another reality is the controversies, big and small, that follow the Clintons like a cloud of dust. There's Benghazi, of course; the messy finances of the Clinton Foundation; a federal corruption investigation into one of her supporters; and the embarrassing spectacle of her closest aide's husband's failed run for mayor of New York City.
But, says former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers, it was ever thus.
DEE DEE MYERS: It's just a fact of life for the Clintons. So, yeah, I think that's something that Hilary has to take into consideration. Does she have the desire at this point in her life to get into the race and to have that be the environment every single day, from the minute she declares to the minute she walks out of the White House, should she win.
LIASSON: But there are past mistakes shell have to learn from if she runs. As Myers points out, her 2008 operation was famously mismanaged.
MYERS: The campaign was well noted for a certain amount of dysfunction. She needs to get past that. I think she'll need a fresh team, some fresh thinking in terms of strategy and tactics. The world has changed a lot in the last eight years, and she'll have to be ready to take advantage of that change to understand it and to drive it.
LIASSON: She'll also have to avoid being seen as running for a third Obama term, or for a restoration of the Clinton regency. And says Democratic strategist Tad Devine, she'll be trying to do something that's only been done once in the modern era, by George H. W. Bush - succeed a two-term president of the same party.
TAD DEVINE: It's very difficult for any political party to come forward and ask for a third consecutive term. Particularly in these times, because our politics are so volatile, there's so much paralysis; people are demanding change in the way Washington works. And usually the only way to achieve that change is to vote out the party in power. And she'll be faced with that obstacle.
LIASSON: Keeping herself part of today's political conversation is important for Hillary Clinton. Since she left the administration, she has weighed in on gay marriage, she's for it. Syria, she supports the president. ObamaCare, she thinks the Republicans attacks will backfire.
But, says Geoff Garin, that's all background noise compared to Mrs. Clinton's much bigger task.
GARIN: The most important thing for Hilary Clinton is not her role in the political fights at the moment. What is more important is her take on the future and where the country needs to go from here.
LIASSON: She has some time to figure that out but not forever. She'll probably need to announce her intentions in early 2015. And then, at 69 years old, begin to explain why she is the candidate of the future not the past. And one thing she can count on, we'll all be listening.
Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.