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. J.J.

    Wow. What were the bacteria on their eyebrows doing at the time?

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

    I noticed some of this when I was watching the initial coverage. Obama needed time to pout...he'll get over it. They both will eventually.

    January 29, 2008 02:25 am at 2:25 am |
  3. spdubois

    Oh, and this is the guy who is going to "bring the country together" — yeah, right. He also says he's not campaigning in Florida yet he is airing commericals on TV blaming it on "cable" and how do you pull ads from National Cable – it's easy – it's called modern technology. What a load of crap. Everyday he sounds more and more like Bush

    January 29, 2008 02:26 am at 2:26 am |
  4. Fiona

    That was very VERY DISAPPOINTING OF BARACK OBAMA.

    I've always been supporting him with his positive attitude towards everything.

    How could he turn his back on a woman? How dare he? As a woman, I feel insulted. Fine, fine, fine. Hillary is a political rival but she's already there shaking his seatmate's hands and the least he could have done was face her, smile, or acknowledge her.

    AND I THOUGH BARACK HAD GOOD MANNERS.

    Ted Kennedy even shook her hand.

    Obama's been showing political muscle all right but he sure acted like an immature candidate at that time, not the gentleman we thought he was. Are the wins getting into his head that's why he's acted like a snob?

    To Barack's camp: I loved Audacity of Hope, I loved Obama's attitude in the whole campaign, but this one action totally turns me off. I'm very very disappointed with my candidate.

    January 29, 2008 02:26 am at 2:26 am |
  5. Another Steve

    Is this a make news item? Seems a bit contrived. Perhaps they did this just for you to have something to write about.

    January 29, 2008 02:27 am at 2:27 am |
  6. Katherine

    And this man says he wants to reach out to the Republicans? He wants to show that he can talk to countries who hate America? Would it have killed him to at least said something or acknowledged his opponent?

    Talk is cheap. Actions speak loudly. I don't see much of a "unifier" here.

    January 29, 2008 02:27 am at 2:27 am |
  7. Rick

    I just received an email from Obama...with his video response to the SOTU speech by Bush. I am a life-long Democrat. I vote and am active as much as I can be. I have been leaning with Hillary for many reasons. But every day, more and more, Sen. Obama makes me believe I may need to rethink my vote tomorrow here in Florida. I know Hillary will win this state and many others next week, which is a long time from now in political terms. But I applaud his campaign for leading the news day all day and right up to tonight. He spoke to me, makes sense... and makes me want to hear more.

    I hope everyone here sees and hears his response video tonight. Very powerful.

    Rick
    Port Orange,Fl.

    January 29, 2008 02:28 am at 2:28 am |
  8. Vikki

    Looks like Obama is the one who did the avoiding. If he had faced her neither would have been able to escape the social obligation of greeting the other.

    January 29, 2008 02:30 am at 2:30 am |
  9. Lance in Monrovia

    I agree, this story is about as much as a stretch as I've ever seen.

    It's like a blow by blow of somebody picking his nose.

    All I know is that Kennedy's speech today rocked.

    January 29, 2008 02:33 am at 2:33 am |
  10. Paul

    Wow that sounds SO AWKWARD!

    I'm sad I wasted my time reading that.

    I guess the old Political Ticker was running low on news when they cooked up this literary gem.

    January 29, 2008 02:33 am at 2:33 am |
  11. Kevin

    They say Obama looked like he was being a 12 year old child. He seems to act like that alot.

    I respect Kennedy for what he did and it shows both the Kennedys and the Clintons are more about getting on with business than holding grudges.

    I was going to vote for Obama but im getting sick of him spitting the dummy. I will vote Clinton I think.

    January 29, 2008 02:34 am at 2:34 am |
  12. John

    As a man want to elect as a president. He should act as a gentleman first.

    January 29, 2008 02:34 am at 2:34 am |
  13. ES

    Obama just showed us how childish he can be. Is this the behavior expected of a presidential candidate? Somehow his speeches and actions doesn't jive. Wonder if the media noted his behavior during Sen Kennedy's endorsement of him. Obama was like a child clinging to Sen Kennedy's side and laughing at one time while they were seated. Again, his behavior was very childlike. Is he now showing his "normal" character?

    January 29, 2008 02:35 am at 2:35 am |
  14. Freedom

    It's good that way. If they are fighting, then fight it out!

    January 29, 2008 02:39 am at 2:39 am |
  15. Nick

    That's Obama's unity for you!

    January 29, 2008 02:40 am at 2:40 am |
  16. Jason

    We all know Obama is hating Clinton, but it always is said the other ay around.
    If it were Clinton who turned her head, the media would have been all over it.... And the hating would have been front page news.
    Its sad...

    January 29, 2008 02:41 am at 2:41 am |
  17. Steve

    Did you know jackies dating Johnny.. like OMG! Don't you miss high school gossip. Good coverage media!

    January 29, 2008 02:44 am at 2:44 am |
  18. s.positive

    GIVE ME a break CNN.. are you that childish...

    January 29, 2008 02:46 am at 2:46 am |
  19. Happy Conservative

    Get over it. IF he saw her and chose not to speak, I find that more noble than giving a fake smile accompanied by a cold fish handshake. She didn't go out of her way to get his attention either. Two adults who'd rather not touch or speak outside of active business. BFD.

    January 29, 2008 02:46 am at 2:46 am |
  20. SWF, CA

    Was the State of the Union that boring that we're treated to this trivia? These are two political rivals, one of whom has desperately distorted her opponent's record the past 3 weeks. Besides, I don't think this was an Obama snub but I'm sure we're about to hear an avalanche of nasty from the NOW-NY crowd.

    Let me guess: it'll be something along the lines of: Waaah, waaah, "I thought he was a uniter, not a divider," or waaah, waaaah, waaaah "if he can't even unite his own party, how is going to unite the nation."

    For all of you who have been berating CNN the past two weeks for their "slanted" coverage, are they once again a proper journalistic outlet? And, all of you who have been shredding Keith Olberman because he wasn't cheerleading for your girl ("I'm not going to watch MSNBC anymore, wah, wah, wah), Keith berated Obama for this picture tonight (without having any background I might add). Is he now a legitimate journalist again?

    Unreal. And it's the older crowd that's the source of so much of this petty and immature doggerel. They're the same ones calling those of us in our 40s, 30s, and 20s "the kids who don't get it."

    January 29, 2008 02:46 am at 2:46 am |
  21. Mike, Conway, AR

    This is what the media does. Manufactures controversies out of nothing. It's easier than actually doing any research about the candidate's positions on the issues.

    January 29, 2008 02:47 am at 2:47 am |
  22. Ritchie Ambroise

    Running for public office is continuing to evolve more into a "blood sport", but that does not necessarily mean that everyone in politics is a player. Sen. Clinton and her husband Pres. Clinton have made unfair blows at Sen. Obama and in response, Obama has shown that he isn't up for this type of game in the race for President. Obama is truthful with not only his words, but actions as well. Tonight, he simply shown that he is not on good terms with his fellow Democrat.

    January 29, 2008 02:47 am at 2:47 am |
  23. aware

    Thanks CNN!

    January 29, 2008 02:47 am at 2:47 am |
  24. mike

    i know of one fantastic candidate who is absolutely more intelligent than any of the others, PLUS he even avoids small spats and nonsense! it's pretty awesome what a great guy this is, but unfortunately the media just doesn't like him.

    his name is Ron Paul and he's extremely brillant, he's a Vietnam vet and a dcotor!
    did you know that CNN?

    January 29, 2008 02:48 am at 2:48 am |
  25. Martin, Redwood City, CA

    Mr Obama ain't no JFK. It will take another election loss or four painful years in the White House for the country and the Democratic party to realize this. It's too bad.

    January 29, 2008 02:48 am at 2:48 am |
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