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. Pavelow

    I agree, i think the next headline should read "The Media needs to stop!"

    January 29, 2008 01:11 am at 1:11 am |
  2. lana

    I think Senator Obama's behavior was very rude and childish. I wonder what would be said if Senator Clinton turned her back to Obama.

    January 29, 2008 01:11 am at 1:11 am |
  3. grant

    If you see the original picture, Obama is clapping; his hands are cropped out of this picture, I'm sure for effect...No big deal. No matter what he did in this situation, the media would have made it a story. If he would have smiled and looked forward, he would have been accused of being arrogant. He just gave her some space.

    January 29, 2008 01:14 am at 1:14 am |
  4. russ

    Hear comes the media spin, just like with the Dean screem, they are looking for the mud to throw. Let the people pick on their own and stop aready with the spear tactics.

    January 29, 2008 01:14 am at 1:14 am |
  5. George

    So much for the rhetoric of a uniter, not a divider!!! It looks like Obama cannot even be a uniter within the Democartic Party. Talk is just talk. We cannot afford to have a president who can only talk not act.

    January 29, 2008 01:14 am at 1:14 am |
  6. Jabari Woods

    From "TheHill":

    In one instance Clinton appeared to gauge Obama’s response before showing her own.

    When Bush warned the Iranian government that “America will confront those who threaten our troops, we will stand by our allies, and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf” Obama jumped up to applaud. Clinton leaned across Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), seated to her left, to look in Obama’s direction before slowly standing.

    January 29, 2008 01:15 am at 1:15 am |
  7. Kelsey's Dad

    Whoa this is huge. Why is this not being reported more? Typical liberal media bias.

    January 29, 2008 01:15 am at 1:15 am |
  8. tov

    Reminds me of ...'You're likeable enough HIllary" A bit of a hypocrite or is he afraid of Hillary...or just very bad mannered? You decide. I did.

    January 29, 2008 01:16 am at 1:16 am |
  9. gop

    sure hope clinton wins.. will be easy victory for republicans..

    January 29, 2008 01:16 am at 1:16 am |
  10. marti

    They say a pictures worth a thousand words! This picture says Obama is jealous of Kennedy shaking Clinton,'s hand. ! What a childish act! Who taking the high and moral ground?

    January 29, 2008 01:17 am at 1:17 am |
  11. Anonymous

    LOL is all I can say.

    January 29, 2008 01:17 am at 1:17 am |
  12. EE

    Jessica Yellin
    If the only job you have as a journalist is to look for fights where there is none , how about trying selling some burger to mike tyson? I remember you were the same person who triggered Bill Clinton into a racially charged argument, now you go about looking for fights where there are none?

    Thats cheap journalism.You can do better!

    January 29, 2008 01:18 am at 1:18 am |
  13. Cory Fisher

    I agree.

    Not a fan of Hillary, but I think thats just trying to make a story out of nothing. When I mean nothing I mean the WONDERFUL State of the Union.

    *gag*

    January 29, 2008 01:18 am at 1:18 am |
  14. Rick

    LOL is all I can say.

    January 29, 2008 01:19 am at 1:19 am |
  15. I don't

    I don't. Obama and his supporters are simply obnoxious. If you don't accept him as the counterfeit Messiah they make the radical right seem almost civil.

    January 29, 2008 01:19 am at 1:19 am |
  16. Bryan, CA

    this article is ridiculous and petty. we need a better media in this country, my god.

    January 29, 2008 01:19 am at 1:19 am |
  17. Keith

    Who cares?

    January 29, 2008 01:19 am at 1:19 am |
  18. Aaron

    Yeah, give me a break. Not that anything should be read into this, but I disagree that civility wasn't demonstrated. First, I think it's nice that Kennedy and Hillary shook hands despite the fact that Kennedy just publicly endorsed her rival (whom he was sitting with). His endorsement, it should be noted, was quite personal. He compared Obama to his older brothers - repeatedly. So I applaud them for being so civil. As for Obama, what was uncivil about his actions? Hillary went out of her way to shake the hand of Kennedy (whom politically just betrayed her) sitting on the other side of him. What is he going to do? "Oh hey, shake my hand too!" He was as civil and respectful as he could be.

    January 29, 2008 01:20 am at 1:20 am |
  19. Mary

    Clinton looks very pretty in her red suits in this picture. Mr.Obama looks a bit irritated.

    January 29, 2008 01:20 am at 1:20 am |
  20. Don

    I don't think it's overplaying it even for a press that loves to divide Democratic people to get Republicans elected.

    Obama and his adulators are simply obnoxious to anyone who doesn't automatically accept him as a divinely entitled Messiah. They often make the radical right and Rush Limbaugh seem almost civil.

    Pardon me, but I want someone with a proven record of solving big problems and that IS , like it or not, Mrs. Clinton.

    January 29, 2008 01:21 am at 1:21 am |
  21. K, Florida

    Obama was too busy falling all over himself trying to be noticed by Bush and a few of the other republicans. It was interesting watching him work in the background of the camera's on ABC. Personally I think that kind of behavior is childish. Tells me he's not ready.

    January 29, 2008 01:22 am at 1:22 am |
  22. Alice, California

    I'm sure Barack felt awkward standing and listening to their conversation when you can tell (by the photo) that the handshake took place in Barack's personal space. So, instead of getting pushed over by the leaning Ted Kennedy, Barack chose to turn around and talk to other people.

    Wow media, good job trying cook up something meaningless. Was Barack having too good of a news day for you, CNN?

    January 29, 2008 01:22 am at 1:22 am |
  23. Democrat for life

    I don't blame Obama one bit, do people expect him to act like everythings "okie dokie" after all the mudslinging Hillary has done?

    January 29, 2008 01:22 am at 1:22 am |
  24. Jon

    You DO realize that Barack Obama is not Muslim, right?

    It's one thing to disagree with him on his policies, but another to simply make up lies. But hey, apparently you need lies to convince you that Hillary is the best candidate.

    January 29, 2008 01:22 am at 1:22 am |
  25. California voter

    I think it was an obvious slight by Obama. And if that is an example of how he will reach out and unify the country he has a long way to go on the diplomatic front.
    Reminds me of the moment in one of the debates when Obama, while looking down at something he was writing, told Hillary that "likable enough". Wow. Body language says often more than words.

    January 29, 2008 01:23 am at 1:23 am |
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