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. Justin

    I agree, Kevin. I think people were out looking for this sort of situation. And even if it's true, what difference could it possibly make with regard to the issues?!? I support Obama, but I'll honestly be very relived when the nominee is decided. All this tension and uncertainty is too much.

    January 29, 2008 01:23 am at 1:23 am |
  2. I'm just sayin'

    ACTIONS speak louder than words which I guess goes against Obama's mantra. So much for the great "unifier" ... reaching across the aisle? ... seems doubtful when he can't even reach out in front of himself to show SOME civility on national television.

    January 29, 2008 01:23 am at 1:23 am |
  3. Alice

    This isn't news. If you don't have news to report then don't report anything.

    January 29, 2008 01:23 am at 1:23 am |
  4. Shane

    Why does CNN keep censoring my posts? None of my comments are being posted? My comment was that I thought it was really unfortunate that he treated Clinton that way. It's like watching kids in high school

    January 29, 2008 01:23 am at 1:23 am |
  5. Raja Banerjee, St. Joseph, MI

    Really guys? Is this really such a big deal? Might Obama have just been engrossed in conversation? No, of course not. Because that doesn't make for good news coverage now does it?

    January 29, 2008 01:24 am at 1:24 am |
  6. Vitorrio Brooks

    CNN is such a gossip network. It used to make me mad, but now its just laughable. Best soap-opera writing team on TV. LOL.

    January 29, 2008 01:25 am at 1:25 am |
  7. Rebecca, St. Louis

    Is this really newsworthy? The point of the State of the Union is to listen to the president speak, not for Congress to have a social hour.

    And if Hillary had been siccing her husband on me, I probably wouldn't talk to her either.

    January 29, 2008 01:25 am at 1:25 am |
  8. SHANE

    CNN why was Hillary a no show ? Is she mad at you ? is she ill ? Has she seen the writing on the wall ? We should no and you should have a story explaing it ? Wierd that other network inform us she didnt apear and canceled and your network doesnt ! Why is that ?

    January 29, 2008 01:26 am at 1:26 am |
  9. sua sponte

    that's hillaryous

    January 29, 2008 01:27 am at 1:27 am |
  10. Dustin

    It is difficult to make a judgment on only one picture, or any picture in fact. It is easy for many people to come up with their own conclusions on this picture, which could be many. Now if there was video, then maybe we could really find out all that went on. I just know that this picture is not something that will be changing my vote. Only the issues America is facing and what the candidate will be doing regarding those issues is the only thing affecting my vote.

    January 29, 2008 01:28 am at 1:28 am |
  11. ken

    Obama should start acting like a grown-up and be able to withstand the barbs of poiltics or he is in the worng field. If he thinks running for the Democratic party nominationis tough, wait till the Republicans have a crack at him. Maybe that is why I still feel uncomfortable about him and think he is not the right choice for the Democratic party. Maybe he should wait 4 or even 8 more years. His reactions thus far has been like a person who is still 'green". Go Republicans – McCain or Romney or even Ron Paul. If the Democratic party noiminates Obama we can clobber 'em this November.

    January 29, 2008 01:28 am at 1:28 am |
  12. Murry

    Who cares? If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. Smart stance.

    January 29, 2008 01:29 am at 1:29 am |
  13. bananarepublic

    Our nation is at war, in fact, there are three wars going on. We need someone with experience in diplomacy and warfare instead of some petulant child with an arrogant attitude. We have one like that now and he flushed our nation down the toilet.

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

    Good for you Obama... it's better that you ignore her then pretend to be fake with her after she has vicously attacked you, along with her husband. Obama is inspiring ... I worked on a Presidential Campaign in Iowa for four months... all the time knowing that it would be Barack Obama who would lead this country come next January. Thank god that was the last Bush SOTU speech EVER!

    OBAMA 08

    January 29, 2008 01:30 am at 1:30 am |
  15. Alvaro Degives-Mas

    There's really nothing to read except what's perfectly well described in that longer paragraph before last, and that closing sentence.

    Try holding your breath for three to four minutes, which is how long this thing lasted. That picture, capturing that deliberately looking away, speaks louder than a thousand words.

    January 29, 2008 01:32 am at 1:32 am |
  16. BO

    What a great example of how Barack Obama will reach out and unite people together. The audacity of hope at work. I guess turning the page to a new chapter is a rhetorical euphemism for turning your back to look at the wall.

    Hillary '08

    January 29, 2008 01:33 am at 1:33 am |
  17. toughnoil

    Well, this is U.S. politics...it has not left the nursery grounds!

    January 29, 2008 01:33 am at 1:33 am |
  18. Yes

    I agree that this article is much ado about nothing.

    January 29, 2008 01:35 am at 1:35 am |
  19. Vote for Merit

    This is where experience shows. Endorsements or not, politics or otherwise, working together brings results. Clinton looks forward and moves on while Obama can't even control his temperament enough to be civil. You cannot hold grudges if you want to get things done in Washington.

    January 29, 2008 01:35 am at 1:35 am |
  20. EDITH YOUNG

    MY COMMENT WAS REJECTED ALTHOUGH I NEVER SUBMITTED ANYTHING EARLIER.

    January 29, 2008 01:35 am at 1:35 am |
  21. Zomg

    OMG I totally heard hillary likes him!!!! ❤

    January 29, 2008 01:37 am at 1:37 am |
  22. LT, Cumming, GA

    What a unifier BO is!?!

    January 29, 2008 01:37 am at 1:37 am |
  23. Delegate Count

    I don't think so. Obama doesn't need to lower himself to shake that snake's hand.

    January 29, 2008 01:38 am at 1:38 am |
  24. AJ

    I don't know if she is reading too much into it. I thought he was against this style of politics. I thought it was cool she shook hands with Kennedy after such an intense day for her. You would think Obama would have taken that moment to show how serious he is about not playing the "old style" political game.

    January 29, 2008 01:39 am at 1:39 am |
  25. stan pitts pa

    yeah it was a packed chamber, no issue here!

    January 29, 2008 01:39 am at 1:39 am |
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