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. EK

    And he is going to unify the nation.......... Man, what a loser.

    January 29, 2008 01:40 am at 1:40 am |
  2. kristoph

    Obama the unity candidate. Give me a break.

    January 29, 2008 01:41 am at 1:41 am |
  3. veronica lynne

    Everyone on TV tonight agreed, and so do I–that it was rude and tasteless on Obama's part. "Ungracious" they called it (and they are generally favorable to Obama).
    They also spoke about how "angry" he looked.
    My question –if all is so rosy for Obama, what is he so mad and petty about?
    And does this prove he does NOT mean it when he talks about hope and UNITY?
    Obama is such a phony.

    January 29, 2008 01:43 am at 1:43 am |
  4. bhalla

    go to hell kennedy, with obama

    January 29, 2008 01:43 am at 1:43 am |
  5. mo

    i agree kevin

    January 29, 2008 01:44 am at 1:44 am |
  6. Marc

    This isn't news! Come on!

    January 29, 2008 01:44 am at 1:44 am |
  7. Sola

    I second that, Obama and Clinton see each other on the campaign trail more often than they see the other senators, so it would make sense that there is more greeting going on between them and other senators than between themselves. Also who knows what interaction they may have had in the absense of the media before they were seated?

    January 29, 2008 01:48 am at 1:48 am |
  8. Julia

    I'm sorry, but given how Senator Clinton and former President Clinton have spoken about Senator Obama in the last several weeks, including attempting to reduce his landslide victory in South Carollina to basically a fluke, what was the writer of this "article" expecting?

    Did Senator Clinton reach out her hand to speak to Senator Obama? Interestingly, there's no comment on this.

    There are news articles and there are opinion pieces – please comprehend the difference and put this kind of opinion piece in its appropriate section.

    I want to read NEWS on CNN.com.

    January 29, 2008 01:49 am at 1:49 am |
  9. Jayhawk34

    Haha sounds like a sporting event between two rivals.

    January 29, 2008 01:49 am at 1:49 am |
  10. David

    :::rolls eyes:::

    January 29, 2008 01:50 am at 1:50 am |
  11. Neil

    CNN, please get a life. You're reading WAY too much into this. I know you have better news stories than this.

    January 29, 2008 01:50 am at 1:50 am |
  12. Youth Voter

    Arrogant and rude – Obama's hope and unity!

    Obama talks about hope and unity and shows utter disrespect for a senior senator who has been serving in the public eye for so many years.

    I always felt Obama was arrogant and cocky. A man is known by his company and especially most of the Obama supporters give the vibe of cockyness.

    Well, we will have another Bush if Ted Kennedy has his way, in terms of inexperience and arrogance.

    Ruin the country!

    January 29, 2008 01:50 am at 1:50 am |
  13. angela

    What a worthless piece. Jessica darlin, you need to go into another line of work.
    this is tabloid gossip , not news. Good God!

    January 29, 2008 01:51 am at 1:51 am |
  14. James

    A non-issue.

    January 29, 2008 01:52 am at 1:52 am |
  15. mimi

    really? this was the best you could come up with?

    January 29, 2008 01:52 am at 1:52 am |
  16. Renee

    This need to stop reading to much into this that is how thngs get blow up and veiwed up fair

    January 29, 2008 01:52 am at 1:52 am |
  17. AJ

    but then again Clinton could have reached out to Obama regardless of his back being turned. They can both be the cool kids...I think DC is big enough.

    January 29, 2008 01:52 am at 1:52 am |
  18. Renee

    correction viewing this un fair trying to make something out of nothing

    January 29, 2008 01:55 am at 1:55 am |
  19. M Johnson

    Really, this is a meaningless observation.

    January 29, 2008 01:56 am at 1:56 am |
  20. Peggy

    this is so not a news story

    please put something more relevant in the ticker

    January 29, 2008 01:57 am at 1:57 am |
  21. Denis, NJ

    Awww does Barack have hard feelings? Should have acted like a man and acknowledged Hillary.

    January 29, 2008 01:58 am at 1:58 am |
  22. Economy Romney = Jobs

    Growing a little tired of Hillary constant need for attention.

    McCain is dangerous but Hillary never shuts up.

    Mitt Romney has the best balance and America is warning up to Mitt.

    January 29, 2008 02:00 am at 2:00 am |
  23. Kate

    Wow. Obama the unifier??? Not.

    January 29, 2008 02:00 am at 2:00 am |
  24. pth

    This is sad. As a proud democrat, this was a not so proud moment. Barack, Hillary, politics as usual. Sad.

    January 29, 2008 02:01 am at 2:01 am |
  25. Trent Jacobs

    This is the typical political BS that Obama wants to avoid..Who cares if he doesn't shake Billary's hand!! Billary will do anything to get the votes..Barak just doesnt care about politically correct...Hillary and Bill are evil and when I see evil I turn my back!!

    I just wanna puke..The man blasted you atleast 20 times hours earlier in such a big endorsement for Obama and you went over to shake hands with him..Just shows that you would do anything to get votes Hillary!!

    I am voting Republican if Billary gets elected!! Scandalous Rats..you and your husband.

    January 29, 2008 02:01 am at 2:01 am |
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