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. stephen

    CNN is so tabloid it's not even funny

    January 29, 2008 02:02 am at 2:02 am |
  2. Hugh

    Oh you so wanted this to be a story didn't you. What was the point in this piece?

    January 29, 2008 02:03 am at 2:03 am |
  3. Mike

    @Kevin: "I think you are reading a bit far into it."

    I agree.

    January 29, 2008 02:05 am at 2:05 am |
  4. BLSMendukung

    Obama shows who he actually is. An insecure person who happens to have great oratorical skills. People who always say that they can bring America together are pulling wool over our eyes. Remember George Bush, did he not say that JESUS is his greatest philospoher. He fan of the Prince of Peace turns out enjoying sending American youth to death or getting maimed in a totally useless war.

    If America elects Obama, he can make America worse than it already is after eight years of Bush.

    As to Kennedy, he enjoys messing things up. Remeber the 1980 Democratic primary. There may be a tinge of envy that feels toward the Clintons.

    As for the race card, Obama started this out by bringing MLK in the campaign. For what? To hide behind him.

    January 29, 2008 02:05 am at 2:05 am |
  5. Kari

    Is it possible he is moving out of the way to allow for the Clinton/Kennedy handshake? Look at the woman by Hillary and how she is bunching up to allow for the exchange? It is a snapshot in time.

    January 29, 2008 02:06 am at 2:06 am |
  6. Rodney

    Obama acted like a little child in that shot i saw the state of the union. Hillary had the dignity to go over to Ted Kennedy and shake his hand and what a telling photo from Obama body language.

    Start questioning this guy people. Look past all this clamour and charisma.

    January 29, 2008 02:06 am at 2:06 am |
  7. Gary, Glenwood, IA

    Obama is arrogant and childish.

    January 29, 2008 02:06 am at 2:06 am |
  8. jackie

    Seriously, I think the media is being very sensational. Why not write about some of President Bush's proposals that he mentioned in his State of the Union. Senator Clinton was having a personal conversation with Ted Kennedy why would Obama stare at Clinton when she clearly was not speaking to him.

    January 29, 2008 02:07 am at 2:07 am |
  9. Hope in Detroit and I am white

    This is not news

    January 29, 2008 02:07 am at 2:07 am |
  10. Sally

    What a creep! I will NEVER vote for such an undignified, petty man! We've already suffered through 8 years of Bush. Hillary ALL the way!!!

    January 29, 2008 02:08 am at 2:08 am |
  11. ao

    You should shake hand of worst enemy. and all experienced senators heavily differing in their opinions, endorsements etc. know it. Even if Clinton wages dirty campaign, where is the high road? This is after all about basic civility, showing higher standards of behavior, character. If people look for change it's fine, i can understand it. Experience doesn't appeal to them as much. But if experience is not the main factor i change than leadership must be! And leadership comes from character – where is the character, the high road, the new non-divisive politics, inclusion despite differences? People – wake up! Watch the vid online with this event so you can not only read about it here, some of you will say it may be a subjective opinion. Watch it on your own and decide what happened, and than judge character. But my opinion unfortunately has to align here, I was very saddened and discouraged by this lack of leadership, the "high-road" approach and character needed to execute it. I'm sad, it is not the way president should behave, if he is meant to forge bipartisanship, and speak with global adversaries (imagine this happening in discussions with Putin or hu jintao). Please consider my words.

    January 29, 2008 02:08 am at 2:08 am |
  12. John, va

    I agree with Kevin. you took it too far.

    January 29, 2008 02:09 am at 2:09 am |
  13. Ron, TX

    I'm going to have to agree with Kevin... I think a certain reporter is simply digging too deep to find a story here...

    Perhaps Obama was just looking for a friend, obviously he wouldn't be checking for Clinton, someone can only lie about you and distort your positions so long before the title "friend" disappears...

    January 29, 2008 02:11 am at 2:11 am |
  14. frankrhone

    I wish he had smacked her upside the head. now THAT would be news.

    January 29, 2008 02:13 am at 2:13 am |
  15. Brian Gro

    Hi Jessica, thanks for the piece. Interesting how it unfolded though I think people will read too much into it all. It really should come as no surprise that these two have a hard time making nice after the very personal back and forth in the last few weeks.

    At the very least this article was one that seemed to report just the facts, rather than report facts mixed with an unhealthy dose of reporter opinion. Thank you very much.

    January 29, 2008 02:14 am at 2:14 am |
  16. abby

    I don't blame Obama for not seeking Hillary's hand. Considering the dirty politics she and Bill have displayed during the last two weeks, he is probably fed up with her. He does not owe her anything. Obama is a gentleman, but he doesn't need to suck up to Hillary in public!

    Hillary is cold. She will go to any length to win, no matter who she discredits on the road to get what she wants. Bill Clinton has taught her well! Hillary turns voters off, as most intelligent people can see right thru her.

    Would you want Bill Clinton campaigning for you?

    January 29, 2008 02:15 am at 2:15 am |
  17. Wake Up Call

    Do you want to say Senator Obama dint know Senator Clinton was right there?
    Obama is getting big headed, and more people are going to see that in him.
    Senator Clinton faced him but he turned away.
    That's the kind of CHANGE he's going to bring, I continue to wonder what Obama is going to do for America.

    Don't people listen to Senator Clinton..............oh yeh they just hate the Clinton's
    Ask Obama suporters exatly why they suport Senator Obama .......they just like him

    Ask Senator Clinton's suporter and they'll tell you its the issues.

    CNN why dont you just endorse Senator Obama and make it open. There's no point waiting, just go ahead, we see it already, everything Clinton says, its wrong, but Senator Obama, oh he is absolutly right, so you think Senator Clinton will come on CNN when she already knows exatly how you will twist everything she says?

    The only acurate repoter is Candy Crowley, very good job. Even Anderson changed so fast. Well good luck to you all.

    January 29, 2008 02:15 am at 2:15 am |
  18. Yoonis

    i wont shake her hand , she is not worth of my respect .. i hate liars

    January 29, 2008 02:16 am at 2:16 am |
  19. Elisha

    SERIOUSLY reading way too far into it. This should be a place for serious political news. Where did you start as a journalist, writing for US Weekly? "OMG! Did you hear about how Britney Spears was all like 'Hey Lindsey, talk to the hand!'

    Our country's future is at stake. CNN controls how seriously the general public pays attention to the issues. The general public can't pay attention to the issues if you are reporting on nonsense like this.

    January 29, 2008 02:19 am at 2:19 am |
  20. cheryl

    Mr. Civility couldn't turn around long enough to give a person the respect they deserve under the circumstances......kudos to Kennedy for being a gentleman.
    It's still the good old boy network no matter how much you say the word change,
    change, change....

    January 29, 2008 02:20 am at 2:20 am |
  21. free thinking

    that's my girl hilary, let him know you will be running that house Ted kennedy just looking for some attention before he retires. that how you do it show him how bold you can be!!! obama setting at the head of the table acting like the waiter.!!!

    Hilary 08

    January 29, 2008 02:20 am at 2:20 am |
  22. anon middle america

    Sadly Barack Obama is not the great statesman that his fans believe him to be. If he refuses to even acknowledge Senator Clinton, is this the type of UNITY – and being able to work across party lines – he is preaching? If he goes against McCain and loses, will he still be willing to work with the new GOP President? He clearly is a man to harbor grudges...

    Barack alone among all the Democratic candidates is the ONLY ONE 😦 who has refused to declare that he will support the Democratic nominee!! EVEN all of his endorsers have stated that they will support whomever the party chooses. EVEN Senator Kennedy stated that he will ENTHUSIASTICALLY support Hillary if she wins the Democratic nomination.

    WHILE Obama's sentiments are reflected by his followers who have absolutely no loyalty to either party!!!

    January 29, 2008 02:20 am at 2:20 am |
  23. Darren

    These guys are playing for keeps. Chatting it up is probably not going to happen.

    January 29, 2008 02:21 am at 2:21 am |
  24. Fran Martin

    I'm sure Bush was responsible.

    January 29, 2008 02:21 am at 2:21 am |
  25. Matt

    That is truly how Senator Obama is. I have met him before and he was not quite as rude and arrogant, but you know that he is capable of being that way. I'm not saying Mrs. Clinton is perfect, believe me, but she made it very clear she was willing to shake hands. She shooks hands with Sen. Kennedy who just endorsed her chief rival. Sen. Obama had the chance to show "unity". He had the chance to "change" the attitude in Washington, and yet he acted like a Washington faithful. Oh well, just like Bobby and Jack, Barack has many flaws, but will his charm make up for his mistakes?

    January 29, 2008 02:24 am at 2:24 am |
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