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. We need action not jokes

    The guy is a complete Butthead. Acts like a little Wuss cant even be civil and he is supposed to be a uniter and reach across party lines he cant even reach across his. Atleast Kennedy and the other Democrat and Republican Senators acted civil before eachother. Barrack should pack up and go Back to Kenya. They like that junk there maybe it would work for him there because it dont here.

    Hillary in 08 "Best Candidate in the Race" "Ready on Day One"!!

    January 29, 2008 04:39 am at 4:39 am |
  2. with Kevin

    No doubt, is this the best news you could find today?

    January 29, 2008 04:39 am at 4:39 am |
  3. Steve, Aurora CO

    What a way for Obama to blow all the buzz from his big endorsement. Maybe he'll get lucky and this won't make the headlines tomorrow morning in Florida.

    January 29, 2008 04:40 am at 4:40 am |
  4. quetzalcotal2012

    Jessica Yellin and whoever put this on the webpage needs to be fired....That was one of the most pointless things ive ever read in my entire life, how does someone get paid to write that? If you let me know, ill come and work for you i could have done that and then some, does someone really get paid to write that? Anything CNN does anymore looks like that Mexican singing show, with the stage with water around it and the dolphins swimming and the pirate ships. This is total crap its dissapointing that people still watch CNN and actually believe what they hear on it, campaign of lowered expecations. How does Wolf Blitzer take himself seriously?

    January 29, 2008 04:40 am at 4:40 am |
  5. Andy

    In essence this is what you get when two people are running for a position within and organization. - But has anyone ever thought of the rational behind all the hype of Senator Obama? Do we really think the right wants Senator Clinton to run? You bet they do not! America may be on a hyped up trip with the Senator from Illinois for now, but when election time rolls around, white America will have abandonned him. We have see this occur before! - Let's look back. I am no Republican, but know full well that it was my party the one who suppressed the black vote in the 40's-60's with the Dixiecrats, who most of all later became sellouts and became Republicans. Yet we act as if this chapter in our party's
    history never occurred. It was the Republican in President Lincolns time who emancipated the blacks, certainly not the Democrats. Yet here I find myself voting with them. Why? Because despite all the history, they still back the little guy, and have done more for Hispanics than the opposing collegues across the isle. - Yet the question remains, is Senator Obama electable? Is it hype by the majority that in essence is another deception to elect another anglo? I hope I am wrong on this, but I still believe that Senator Clinton is our best shot. But if Senator Obama get the nomination, He too, will have my support.

    January 29, 2008 04:49 am at 4:49 am |
  6. Ed

    Wow. If Hillary had turned her back on Obama she would have been crucified in the media. So much for him being the uniter. Clearly, if you look at the picture, he looks angry.

    January 29, 2008 04:49 am at 4:49 am |
  7. Richard

    There it was! A moment to try and be civil, but OBVIOUSLY Obama is TOO GOOD to acknowledge Hillary. Whatever! It shows how petty he is. Those of you who are supporting him – one word – BEWARE!

    January 29, 2008 04:52 am at 4:52 am |
  8. Izzy

    Obama is right in keeping his distance from a candidate who is willing to smear and crush is character, whose husband (the former President of the US) is willing to inject the dangerous poison of racial division into the narrative just so that they can win the nomination. This is not the kind of person I'd want to be seen giggling with.

    Besides, the Presidency is a heirloom, chattel or necklace to be handed down the family tree as one wishes.

    Of all the Democratic candidates running for the Presidency, Hillary Clinton is the least qualified. Sipping tea with other first ladies and exchanging partisan rhetoric with right-wing idiots does not make one vetted or ready from day one. It just makes you petty.

    January 29, 2008 04:59 am at 4:59 am |
  9. Ken Garing

    Thank you Jessica Yellin for the pavement pounding journalism!

    January 29, 2008 05:03 am at 5:03 am |
  10. Anonymous

    it could be that he was looking for someone, or that he just didnt have anything to say to her. they are running against each other, why do they have to be friends? better yet, why should they talk at all?

    January 29, 2008 05:04 am at 5:04 am |
  11. This Too Funny

    Jessica you so....messy.

    January 29, 2008 05:07 am at 5:07 am |
  12. Mitt Romney

    Senator Kennedy has been friends with the Clintons long before Obama got there. They are all part of the same democratic 'family'. Obama has a lot of respect for his party elders. He was given an endorsement that many in the party didnt expect Kennedy to give. He felt awkward for Clinton. This is my take on his inablility to handle the situation.

    January 29, 2008 05:11 am at 5:11 am |
  13. Cathy

    I dont think they are reading too much into it. ...look at the picture of Barak! For me it further demonstrates the mans immaturity and inability to lead in "tough" times when maybe everyone does not get along....

    January 29, 2008 05:16 am at 5:16 am |
  14. Bob

    Another more significant "awkward" moment was Hillary cancelling her post SOTU appearance on CNN with no explanation. That does not sound good.

    January 29, 2008 05:18 am at 5:18 am |
  15. Richard Rote (California)

    OVERANALYSIS!!!

    Clinton could have tapped Obama's shoulder.

    He could have tapped on hers.

    WHO CARES???

    January 29, 2008 05:19 am at 5:19 am |
  16. old lady USA

    Thank God for Clair McCaskill. It is obvious that McCaskill has Obama's back.

    I'm an Edwards fan, and fully aware that I may not get my way in this candidate selection process this time. My second choice is Obama.

    I know that it is time for leaders that can evaluate the situation quickly, determine the truth and then take action for the best outcome. Both Edwards and Obama have shown me those qualities. But one thing is for sure, if I cannot vote for John Edwards for President, I will NOT vote for Hillary Clinton. Why? She is not my kind of woman leader.

    I know that Hillary has remarkable skills of all things political. So does Rove. But folks of their skill level ARE the ones, by way of their divide-and concur style of leadership, who have created the gridlock that is our government. The gotcha skill is the next most used by these folks. So first, they work the public then they work the power. I am done with their style and it feels like most of the country feels the same way, Red and Blue.

    This picture is an example of Hillary inserting herself into a photo-opp, at all costs. One only has to really watch her and listen to her words to know that, for her, it is really all about – her. I'm done buying that bridge, over and over and over.

    Sounds like I wouldn't ever vote for a woman, wrong.... I've worked women's issues for most of my 60 years and if I can't have Edwards, or any combination of Obama/Edwards, then put Clair McCaskill on a ticket and see how women really feel.

    Thank you Clair for being a true leader.

    January 29, 2008 05:19 am at 5:19 am |
  17. Bob

    Don't forget Hillary blatantly snubbed Obama last year after Obama annouced his run for the President. I think last night Obama was just being polite by allowing Hillary and Ted to greet and talk by themselves.

    January 29, 2008 05:28 am at 5:28 am |
  18. kati

    Obama needs to grow up.....how will he treat people we really need to talk with like foreigh governments....also guess what!!! Now he will be "beholden" to the great and fabulous OZ himself ...Ted Kennedy.....

    January 29, 2008 05:29 am at 5:29 am |
  19. Seed of Change

    It was graceful of Senetor Clinton to shake hand with Senetor Kenney although he is supporting his opposition.

    Obama's New Hampshire moment to say "you are likable enough, Hillary" and this moment are true representation of the Senetor is actually like.

    January 29, 2008 05:31 am at 5:31 am |
  20. dont censor me , bro

    They digust each other,, they cant even put on the happy face when needed

    January 29, 2008 05:31 am at 5:31 am |
  21. Debbie Player

    This IS NOT a BLACK MAN versus WOMAN issue for me. If Obama shows his political inexperience and immaturity in a presidential campaign, how is he going to communicate with world leaders that he doesn't like? Ignor them? Do we REALLY want or need a President that thin-skinned? Although Americans want to hear the optimism for the future found in Obama's "I have a dream" charisma, Americans REALLY need a president that can hit the ground running to deal with foreign and domestic issues created by GWB. I can't say that I'm enamored with Clinton's campaign tactics, but she has shown that she can take the hits from her critics AND she IS the most qualified person for the job of President of the United States. Think about it–do you want a pre-schooler in training or a teacher to lead us back to the quadmire we're in?

    January 29, 2008 05:31 am at 5:31 am |
  22. Greta

    I think itmeant nothing really. The media should stop fuelling rumours that cause friction. Senator Obama and Senator Clinton are always civil to each other. I saw nothing wrong with that moment. Like Kevin said, CNN is reading too much into it!

    January 29, 2008 05:32 am at 5:32 am |
  23. Kelsey Wopiye

    why is this news again? can anyone refresh my memory?

    January 29, 2008 05:34 am at 5:34 am |
  24. Benskin

    Taking into consideration the aggressivity of the comments they exchanged last week. I'm not supprise that it has put both candidates in an unconfortable position with regard to each other now. Hopefully they will go over it after the primaries are over.

    January 29, 2008 05:36 am at 5:36 am |
  25. Sal

    Thats nice of him.

    January 29, 2008 05:37 am at 5:37 am |
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