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. Dave, Washington, DC

    I agree with Kevin; Ms. Yellin is really reaching here. There's a difference between news and pure speculation and this definitely falls into the latter category.

    January 29, 2008 05:37 am at 5:37 am |
  2. Matt

    Great, now I suppose you're going to tell us what Lindsay Lohan had for breakfast and where Jake Gyllenhaal was last spotted while on vacation.

    January 29, 2008 05:39 am at 5:39 am |
  3. jyfranca

    its good it proves republican is the party of hope and love

    January 29, 2008 05:41 am at 5:41 am |
  4. Don

    Shows you that Obama is just like any other politician. Very rude on his part. If this story was in the reverse, people would be all over Hillary Clinton. Obama was rude. Is this the poltics of change he promises?

    January 29, 2008 05:42 am at 5:42 am |
  5. Viven CA

    This one photo tells worlds about the man who would be king.

    January 29, 2008 05:43 am at 5:43 am |
  6. E, Layton UT, Freiburg Germany

    Agreed. And if Obama jumped in and starting talking to her, there'd be a different "spin" involved – "Obama jumps on greeting bandwagon"... whatever.

    Those candidates have to be sick of each other by now 🙂

    January 29, 2008 05:43 am at 5:43 am |
  7. Clarence

    Too much is being made of the fact that Hillary Clinton is a woman, and that Barack Obama is black. Most seem to agree that this election represents a turning-point in the United States of America. Change vs. Experience seems to be the choice. Mr. Kennedy is not new at this. I'm sure his decision was a well thought out one.

    January 29, 2008 05:46 am at 5:46 am |
  8. Donna

    Hillary reaching to shake Ted Kennedy's hand....gracious as always...and Barack Obama turning away with his back to her.

    This is inclusion? Wow.

    January 29, 2008 05:47 am at 5:47 am |
  9. Kelly

    Rhetoric hits reality. Also why is the press making such a big thing on Ted, when Kathleen Kennedy, Bobi and Kerry are for Hilary.

    January 29, 2008 05:48 am at 5:48 am |
  10. mr.fair tax

    If the dems win.
    the days of misery start

    January 29, 2008 05:49 am at 5:49 am |
  11. Kathleen

    So much for being civil and rising above it all. If anyone is paying attention to what O is saying it seems that he is a great admirer of the Republican party. Could it be possible that the Republican party know all about him and if he successfully attains the office you will find that the democratic party has put a republican in the White House? Something about this man does not seem right. Well the public has been fooled before haven't they?

    January 29, 2008 05:51 am at 5:51 am |
  12. MM

    A LIAR CAN NEVER FACE THE TRUTH! We Learned This Lesson A Long Time Ago. Obama Can't Look In Her Direction Because He Knows What A Conniving Liar He Is. McCaskill Endorses Obama Only Because He Helped Win Support In Missouri During Her Run For Congress. Ted Is A Hypocrite And Should Forever Hide His Demoralized Self In Shame.

    GO HILLARY 2008!!!

    You don't need those hypocrites!

    January 29, 2008 05:54 am at 5:54 am |
  13. diogu

    Why did you not ask them why they did not acknowledge each other? That what journalist do, I hope; they ask question before the report.

    January 29, 2008 05:56 am at 5:56 am |
  14. rhonda

    Not enough news with the State of the Union?

    January 29, 2008 05:57 am at 5:57 am |
  15. thescoundrel

    He looks stressed to me!

    January 29, 2008 06:04 am at 6:04 am |
  16. muad' dib

    wake up.............................

    January 29, 2008 06:08 am at 6:08 am |
  17. Jason

    I think their opinion of each other is fairly obvious by that transaction (or lack of one).

    January 29, 2008 06:09 am at 6:09 am |
  18. Joe

    Wow. Pulitzer material.

    January 29, 2008 06:10 am at 6:10 am |
  19. Billie

    He could have been a man and turned around and shook her hand. What was he afraid of?

    January 29, 2008 06:10 am at 6:10 am |
  20. B, Freiburg Germany

    Here's from my wife:

    Sorry, but that really doesn't bother me. I think it would insincere for him to jump on the social bandwagon, just because "he's supposed to". It sounds like politics at the popular kids table in a high school...

    Why be insincere and engage, just to say you did? "Oh, hi Hillary. I'm so glad you're here! How's the campaign been? Yeah, it's grueling." "Yes, Barack. Congratulations on your endorsement yesterday from Ted. That should really help you out in your campaign." Grin grin, smile, smile.

    We like a guy that speaks his mind, and doesn't have to deal with insincere political small talk when a camera is pointed at you.

    Personally, I wouldn't say anything either after so many dirty, personal attacks – I'd probably accidentally say something that wouldn't come across very well on camera 🙂

    January 29, 2008 06:11 am at 6:11 am |
  21. anonymous

    How rude of him....real presidential alright!!!!

    January 29, 2008 06:13 am at 6:13 am |
  22. John ny, ny

    wow I thought Obama was the uniter and would talk to even the enemies. Doesn't look like it.

    January 29, 2008 06:18 am at 6:18 am |
  23. Aris

    If she and her husband spent two weeks spreading lies about me, I wouldn;t shake her hand either. There are not two faces to Barack Obama, what you see is what you get and right now he is not happy with the Clintons for obvious reasons. Isn't it refreshing to see someone that is not willing to just go through the motions or present a facade, but will show you and let you know exactly where you stand? I'm tired of paper, fake politicians that are all sugar with eachother as they stab one another in the back while at the same time walking all over the American people ... smiling ear to ear.

    January 29, 2008 06:21 am at 6:21 am |
  24. vote for Mitt Rromney

    The problem is with the Washington insiders!!!!

    Mitt Romney is not a Washington insider like McLaim, Obama and Hillary

    McLaim, Obama and Hillary they are part of the problem

    You can not fix Washington just by having one of the Senators switch seats!!!!!

    There is very little difference in the voting records of McLaim, Obama and Hillary.

    Vote for Mitt Romney the person with executive experience.

    Vote for Mitt Romney!!!!!!!!!!

    January 29, 2008 06:24 am at 6:24 am |
  25. Susan

    This report is a silly waste of time. Report substance, please. not meaningless speculation.

    January 29, 2008 06:26 am at 6:26 am |
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