January 29th, 2008
10:30 AM ET
12 years ago

State of the Union: Awkward moment

The presidential contenders meet on neutral terrain.

The presidential contenders meet on neutral terrain.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - It could have been a moment for Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to demonstrate the civility they say we need in our politics.

Oh, well.

Before the President entered the House Chamber for the State of the Union address, Clinton took a seat three chairs and an aisle away from Obama. While members of Congress were still greeting one another, Clinton crossed the aisle to speak with Democratic Rep. Jim Langvin of Rhode Island, a Clinton supporter. He was seated in front of Obama.

While Clinton was bent over talking to Langvin, who has been in a wheelchair since age 16, the senator sitting next to Barack Obama watched Clinton intently. It was Sen. Ted Kennedy, who had made a splash by endorsing Obama earlier in the day.

Here’s where it could have happened.

When Clinton straightened up, Kennedy quickly reached across Barack Obama to shake Clinton’s hand. She took it. As they spoke, Obama turned away. Then the senators seated to Obama’s right – Ben Nelson and Ken Salazar - both shook Senator Clinton’s hand and talked to her. Instead of doing the same, Obama turned to look at the back of the room. Sen. Claire McCaskill, who has also endorsed Obama and was seated next to Kennedy, reached across the Massachusetts senator - who was still talking to Clinton - and tapped Obama (still twisted toward the back of the room) on the shoulder. McCaskill engaged Obama in conversation until the moment passed.

It all lasted less than five minutes. Neither acknowledged the other all night.

UPDATE: Speaking about the moment Tuesday morning, Obama advisor David Axelrod said in an interview on MSNBC the Illinois senator was not trying to snub Clinton.

"I think he knew that Senator Kennedy and Senator Clinton were friends," he said. "This was obviously an awkward day from that standpoint, and I don't think he wanted to stand there while Senator Kennedy was greeting Senator Clinton. And I think that was an appropriate sentiment."

–CNN's Jessica Yellin

soundoff (2,013 Responses)
  1. Kiki

    Obama is so inmature!! There was not need for that! Hillary has great grace and I trully respect her.

    January 28, 2008 11:42 pm at 11:42 pm |
  2. Kevin

    I think you are reading a bit far into it.

    January 28, 2008 11:43 pm at 11:43 pm |
  3. Donna F

    Obama blew his moment to be a mature man and candidate. Hillary stepped up to the plate as a mature woman and American running for President. The only awkwardness was the rude , rude back of Obama

    January 28, 2008 11:45 pm at 11:45 pm |
  4. Kat

    Obama and Clinton don't care for each other. Wow, breaking news.

    January 28, 2008 11:46 pm at 11:46 pm |
  5. Bruce

    It just goes to Obama's character and level of maturity to turn his back like a spurned kid on the playground and not even acknowledge Senator Clinton's existence in the same space. It makes me question his real experience and ability to lead this country when he can't even face another candidate from the same party on common ground.

    January 28, 2008 11:47 pm at 11:47 pm |
  6. John, NY

    wow...CNN puts a real spin to the story. ...go ahead and make it more interesting. trust CNN for your daily spice.

    January 28, 2008 11:48 pm at 11:48 pm |
  7. david

    Just as how he said, "hillary, you are likable enough". Didn't act like a true gentleman.

    January 28, 2008 11:48 pm at 11:48 pm |
  8. Boogie

    wow...Obama seems a little snotty now that he's leading.
    Sore winner????
    Now maybe we'll get some people to start asking him for real answers to all his claims of change.
    Like HOW...
    I'm listening Obama...haven't heard it yet...You have my ear...impress me.

    January 28, 2008 11:50 pm at 11:50 pm |
  9. Joe

    Man this media..........they are going to talk about this all day tomorrow in the cable news....i hope it doesn't hurt either of the candidates.

    January 28, 2008 11:50 pm at 11:50 pm |
  10. Karen

    This is so priceless!!!!!!! It is already all over the internet. President Pookie Pouty Face. He looks so Presidential when he throws a tantrum!

    January 28, 2008 11:51 pm at 11:51 pm |
  11. Good boy.

    OF course he doesn't want to acknowledge her. Why pretend as though she hasn't been trying to twist his record and the facts about him to smear him? He did the right thing. Shake her hand and she'll reach around to your back with the sharpest knife she has.

    I commend Barack. He really is trying to stay above the typical, two-faced politics that Hillary apparently loves to play. Just look at her face. I've know people that make exaggerated expressions like that... they're annoying... and every single one of them was fake as hell. As if she's really that excited to shake Kennedy's hand after he just endorsed Obama. Please.

    January 28, 2008 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  12. Kin

    Hmmm....not good for Obama. Obama, you're a man calling for unity, but you won't even shake your opponent's hand, instead turning a cold shoulder? He should have lived up to his morals.

    Clinton's not exonerated either. Clinton could have made more of an effort, though I'd figure things would have been difficult given the busy nature of the entire thing.

    January 28, 2008 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  13. Steve

    The Great Uniter in action.....

    January 28, 2008 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  14. Illiniois Dem-Libral

    No Obama should have shown that he is as civil as he says he is. He had a chance to show us that as party we can run against each other and still at the end of the day shake hands, as soon as he saw Ted reach out he should have done the same, but to turn his back shows a lack of respect. I am disappointed in him. Hillary was not given the chance to extend her to him with his back turned.

    January 28, 2008 11:53 pm at 11:53 pm |
  15. Carol

    I'm sorry, but your missing the full view of the picture. It's being called a photo worthy of a Pulitzer on the net. I'm sorry but this is funny.

    January 28, 2008 11:53 pm at 11:53 pm |
  16. Steve, NYC, NY

    For 5 minutes. Hillary was being a 'man'. Obama was playing the part of a little boy.

    January 28, 2008 11:54 pm at 11:54 pm |
  17. Educated American

    Is this really newsworthy?

    January 28, 2008 11:54 pm at 11:54 pm |
  18. John in Ga.

    Shame on Barack Obama. How petty can you be? But, thanks for helping me make up my mind on which of you to vote for, and congratulations on being beneath Hillary. Your true color is showing itself. Keep up the good work! LOL

    January 28, 2008 11:54 pm at 11:54 pm |
  19. California

    I was waiting for the poll numbers to tighten up here in California. Well.....maybe not so much now.......

    January 28, 2008 11:54 pm at 11:54 pm |
  20. Info

    CNN stop this nonsense

    January 28, 2008 11:54 pm at 11:54 pm |
  21. Sally

    Who sais they didn't speak outside of the room, this is just another way the press tend to over-reacted too influence

    January 28, 2008 11:54 pm at 11:54 pm |
  22. vote4change

    I agree. This is not worth printing.

    January 28, 2008 11:55 pm at 11:55 pm |
  23. Christina

    No, this is one that CNN has called right. Obama claims to be a uniter. The least he could have done was shake Clinton's hand. There was no need to turn around. That is not behavior that I would expect from a "uniter." That is not behavior that I consider to be "Presidential."

    January 28, 2008 11:56 pm at 11:56 pm |
  24. Truethis

    Jessica, I notice you like to instigate a lot on both sides. We need to find a candidate that can unite this country. I noticed you're not traveling with any of the candidates, lately. Oh Well.

    January 28, 2008 11:56 pm at 11:56 pm |
  25. Jeff, Denver, CO

    Are you kidding me? SO WHAT! We need better stories than this. This trash belongs in People magazine – not a political column.

    January 28, 2008 11:56 pm at 11:56 pm |
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