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. GG

    Now that Obama is firmly in the elite boys club of the Democratic establishment after being crowned by the patriarch of America's royal family, he doesn't seem to feel the need anymore for manners.

    January 29, 2008 06:27 am at 6:27 am |
  2. Ken

    Well....if someone was telling lies about me, and sent her husband out behind my back to discredit my name.... I'm not sure that I would have offered to shake her hand, either. Why? Let's face it, Hillary and her husband are communists who would sell their families to the Chinese Government, and crawl on their hands and knees all of the way to Washington DC with dog bones in their mouths just to be President and have all of that power.

    This is not about an overall desire to see "true change" in America. It's all about Bill and Hillary. Period. If somebody told both of them that they could forget the campaign, and instead, parachute naked over Washington DC for the Presidency.......they would be on the 6 o'clock Helicopter with smiles on their faces.

    How pathetic......no character whatsoever. The motto? "Say anything, lie, bash the opponent, and divide and conquer by utilizing the race and gender cards."

    Oh yeah....we all need that in our country at this hour. America has enough problems without having to add a few more.

    January 29, 2008 06:28 am at 6:28 am |
  3. mgleaso3

    I'm sure that after the full-on attacks by the Clinton campaign, Obama is feelin' a lot of love for Hillary right now! My first thought when reading the bit his reaction while Clinton was engaged in conversation with Kennedy was that he probably didn't want to be intrusive.

    January 29, 2008 06:29 am at 6:29 am |
  4. Michael in Pittsburgh

    Wait a second...I thought Barack Obama was our long-awaited "messiah" who will bring us all together as one people, one country....LOL

    That really says it all. He is behaving like a pompous and arrogant jerk. Just because Camelot "annoints" you does not mean you have the Golden Ticket to 1600 Pennsylvania, and he'd do well to remember that...

    Sen. Ted Kennedy, although respected by some in the party for obvious reasons, is NOT the be all end all of the Democratic party.

    January 29, 2008 06:37 am at 6:37 am |
  5. Offbeat Rock

    Unnecessary senseationalizing of a non-issue. You must do better than that CNN.

    January 29, 2008 06:38 am at 6:38 am |
  6. Karen

    Yes, this is silly. They see and speak to one another all the time. Hillary and Barack both look exhausted to me.

    January 29, 2008 06:45 am at 6:45 am |
  7. Linda~n~Wisconsin

    And this is the man who is suppose to bring this country together? What a rude individual.

    Maybe he needs Edward next to him, like at the debates, so he can touch and look at him instead of Hillary.

    He is a male chauvinist pig and has not shown any respect towards Hillary during this entire primary.

    So, CNN, where is the Rezko story with Obama? If it would be any toher candidate, you would be all over it like flies on crap. I am sick of this kid getting a free ride by the media and the pundits.

    January 29, 2008 06:48 am at 6:48 am |
  8. don

    Does this sort of behaviour strike anyone else as immature on Obama's part?

    January 29, 2008 06:48 am at 6:48 am |
  9. shane

    why did clinton not apear on cnn ?

    January 29, 2008 06:55 am at 6:55 am |
  10. Karen, Washington, DC

    I agree - if nothing is happening, the media "makes" it happen.

    January 29, 2008 06:58 am at 6:58 am |
  11. Helen

    very telling about obama , uniter HAHA HA

    January 29, 2008 07:03 am at 7:03 am |
  12. Meher Modi

    Interesting .... I am not from the USA but am following the campaign closely. I guess what you are from inside has to come out in the open one day or the next.

    I guess HRC made the first move to reconcile like most women do by going across to a point where she would not be compromised or be made to look foolish and was civil enough to wish everyone but looks like BO has a bad taste in his mouth or i guess he is another BUSH "you are either with me or against me".

    We often see in Indian politics no matter how deep the fissures run there is always cordiality maintained in front of the cameras between the top leaders of any political party.

    I guess this is a PR oppurtunity that BO just lost.

    Consider this :

    1. He shows disrespect towards a woman. Ted atleast shook her hand and so did BO's other endorsers.

    2. He was in the senate house and technically she is a colleague so he should have acknowledged her if not shake hands or talk to her

    This guy talks about uniting people and change well I expected more from a person like that.

    IF HE CAN TURN HIS BACK ON HIS DEMOCRATIC PARTY RIVAL I DONT THINK HE WOULD BE ABLE TO DO MUCH TO UNITE THE AMERICAN NATION.

    Being a man I can definately say that was a sexist and a chauvenistic thing to do.

    Man chin up you have not lost yet and you are no hypocrite either so why are you acting like a bad loser.

    January 29, 2008 07:06 am at 7:06 am |
  13. Pam

    It speaks for itself.

    Kennedy will quickly discover his mistake.

    JFK had 14 years as a Senator, served as Commander of PT-109 in WWII, AND traveled intensly around the world before becoming President of these United States.

    Obama doesn't hold a candle to that. He is an Orator.

    January 29, 2008 07:06 am at 7:06 am |
  14. checkthisout

    So IMPOLITE, RUDE and UN-GENTLEMANLY !!!

    So much for HOPE and CHANGE.

    This is the State of the Union.

    January 29, 2008 07:06 am at 7:06 am |
  15. Sean, Santa Barbara, CA

    Kevin, c'mon this is CNN.

    CNN's rules=

    Turn a light on = against global warming

    Flushing a toilet = dolphin killer

    said "Hi" = awkard moment filled with emotional outbursts, the gloves really came off

    two white people voted = the candidte has a lot of appeal in the white community

    Israel military kills a women and two kids while demolishing homes in occupied palestine to build settlements = Islmaist militants were killed attacking Israel next to a rocket launcher

    January 29, 2008 07:09 am at 7:09 am |
  16. Jamie

    Describing what happened isn't reading anything into anything. What I read into it is Clinton challenging Obama by lingering in his personal space. The fact that neither of them spoke was inappropriate. The only Miss Manners moment was McCaskill's tap on the shoulder.

    January 29, 2008 07:10 am at 7:10 am |
  17. James

    CNN – who cares about this? This is the kinda stuff that continues to plague our news and is the number one reason why most turn the channel when you report junk like this. How about you report the news, here some news for you – there is a war going on and the country is going through a economic crisis.

    January 29, 2008 07:11 am at 7:11 am |
  18. Susan in Cincinnati

    This is the real shame of it. If he is taking "the high road" why can't he look her in the eye? Smile. Nod, at least??

    I am really saddened by this. Looks like the Dems infighting may, once again, do them in.

    Amma

    January 29, 2008 07:11 am at 7:11 am |
  19. Anthony

    Maybe... or Obama shows that he is a novice at being on the big stage. Clinton walked over to him and he turns away? Lame.

    January 29, 2008 07:16 am at 7:16 am |
  20. MB, Louisiana

    Maybe Obama just couldn't "man up" to shake his opponent's hand.

    Sadly, looks like Obama seems to be holding a grudge.

    January 29, 2008 07:17 am at 7:17 am |
  21. PGB

    Obama acted like he was 5 years old. Grow up, or take a nap or something... Pretty telling sign about how good he is at "uniting".

    January 29, 2008 07:19 am at 7:19 am |
  22. Elizabeth M.

    I think this is so stupid. It's a photo. Honestly, I would feel akward being Clinton or Obama in this setting with Ted Kennedy standing there. Please, haven't we all had these moments! THIS REALLY ISN'T NEWS.

    January 29, 2008 07:21 am at 7:21 am |
  23. colorblind

    CNN YOU SHOULD STOP PRINTING THIS TYPE OF STUFF........ THEY CAN HUG WHEN THE GAME IS DONE.... GEEZS

    January 29, 2008 07:28 am at 7:28 am |
  24. Joey

    This isn't even news. They didn't shake hands "SO WHAT!" Get some real news.

    January 29, 2008 07:29 am at 7:29 am |
  25. Dem

    that was kind awkward, kiss good bye for the same ticket (Obama/Clinton or Clinto/Obama).

    Obama dislike the Clintons as McCain dislike Mit, I like both Obama and McCain.

    One of them will get my vote (Obama first then McCain)

    January 29, 2008 07:33 am at 7:33 am |
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