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. Richard Burrell

    CNN is trying its best to make Obama into the bad guy. Look at the "Sen Kennedy betrays Women" splashed on this page. Picture and characterization of Obama seem so transparent. I'm not an Obama supporter (I like Ron Paul)- but i don't like being manipulated like I'm a child by CNN or anyone.
    CNN is getting more and more blatant in it's negative coverage of candidates it doesn't like or it's non coverage of candidates it doesn't like.

    January 29, 2008 07:33 am at 7:33 am |
  2. Clinton

    Of course, Hillary wants to make ammends. Her strategy was flawed and now she has to lay in the bed she made....

    January 29, 2008 07:37 am at 7:37 am |
  3. Sean McCabe

    No it seems he turns his back allot at diffcult times -what would he turn his back on if he ever makes it to the White House.

    January 29, 2008 07:38 am at 7:38 am |
  4. C.Lo

    They have probably met before this setting. They shook hands before and like Kevin said, you are reading a bit far.

    I suspect the anti Obama willl jump into this but trust me, there is nothing to report here.

    This is just sensational journalism

    C. Lo

    January 29, 2008 07:39 am at 7:39 am |
  5. Hillary Supporter

    This is the man you think is ready to lead our country and the world? Thought he wanted to unite everyone, meet with all world leaders good and bad, yet can't shake Senator Clinton's hand at the State of the Union???? What exactly has Obama done for women over his career? Or is this a strong picture of what's to come....

    So much for bringing everyone together.......

    January 29, 2008 07:40 am at 7:40 am |
  6. Anonymous

    Sounds like spiteful george bush.

    January 29, 2008 07:43 am at 7:43 am |
  7. Mark

    Can someone direct me to where I might find out where Hillary stands on how to fix social security or what she thinks about fiscal responsibility? I am trying to chose the best candidate. I have been all over her website and cannot find it. I found the answers on the Obama site. Does she believe the same?

    January 29, 2008 07:45 am at 7:45 am |
  8. gracelee

    I've seen Ms. Yellin's manners in public before and she'd have no reason to point out others bad behavior.

    January 29, 2008 07:46 am at 7:46 am |
  9. Eric, MD

    Obama showed his true cowardice at that moment.

    January 29, 2008 07:48 am at 7:48 am |
  10. MadMax3000, NC

    He probably had turned to greet someone else, or do something else.

    He finished to get the endorsement from Kennedy, so he doesn't worry too much about Hillary shaking hands with him... instead it's more awkward on Hillary's side.

    January 29, 2008 07:56 am at 7:56 am |
  11. Tere

    So maybe Sen. Obama was being a gentleman and giving Sen. Clinton space to greet others and converse without interruption on his part. Or maybe he recognized that emotions were enough on edge that turning away to avoid potential conflict was better for that moment than opening the door to further conflict. Or maybe he understood that the moment wasn't about him and her but about Pres. Bush's upcoming address.

    January 29, 2008 07:56 am at 7:56 am |
  12. R. CHARLES

    REMEMBER THE ACRIMONY BETWEEN KENNEDY AND JOHNSON???
    POLITICS, POLITICS.

    MD,NY

    January 29, 2008 07:56 am at 7:56 am |
  13. marie

    Hillary was ditched right before the big dance, but being strong as she is, she attended anyway and went ahead and shook her old boyfriend's hand. His new, younger, ever hopeful date, had the opportunity to acknowledge her and didn't. Read it however you want. But, actions speak louder than words.

    January 29, 2008 08:00 am at 8:00 am |
  14. Teresa

    This totally speaks to Obama's character...or lack of it.

    January 29, 2008 08:00 am at 8:00 am |
  15. Jim P.

    Politicians acting like 5 year olds... This is news????

    January 29, 2008 08:02 am at 8:02 am |
  16. David S., Chicago, IL

    Weak.

    January 29, 2008 08:03 am at 8:03 am |
  17. Maria

    Who cares! I can not stand Obama and will not vote him! I have never liked Kennedy and his endorsement means NOTHING! Obama is arrogant and inexperienced and the news media would love nothing more than for him to win so they can keep their jobs and have something to write about!

    January 29, 2008 08:08 am at 8:08 am |
  18. Desiree

    Obama is a divider not a uniter. He couldn't do a grown up thing and even look at Hillary or shake her hand, how is he going to bring this country together, is this how he's going to respond to her supporters by turning his back on them as well? It's called being civil for 2 seconds when you know everyone is watching you. Obama needs to grow up and act like a leader

    January 29, 2008 08:08 am at 8:08 am |
  19. Marie

    It was noticed by CNN that Senator Obama apparently glanced over at Hillary to see if she stood for one of Bush's points which indicates a lack of decisiveness and leadership.

    January 29, 2008 08:11 am at 8:11 am |
  20. plain jane

    A picture is worth a 1000 words.

    This is the GREAT UNITER????? AND YOU CAN'T EVEN FACE HILLARY. LOL

    If you can't handle a campaign on your own, HOW THE HECK WOULD YOU
    HANDLE THE PRESIDENCY??????

    AMERICA.....WAKE UP

    January 29, 2008 08:11 am at 8:11 am |
  21. Ruth Ann

    Hillary I'm sorry sweetie, but I think I'm abandoning your ship. You have really begun to make us (women) look weak.

    Obama in '08

    January 29, 2008 08:12 am at 8:12 am |
  22. Connie

    I agree with Kevin!

    January 29, 2008 08:14 am at 8:14 am |
  23. Lucy

    I totally agree...

    January 29, 2008 08:17 am at 8:17 am |
  24. g

    So went a break from politics as usual.

    January 29, 2008 08:18 am at 8:18 am |
  25. Attacks by the Establishment on Ron Paul Continue

    S.O.S

    January 29, 2008 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
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