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. josh

    THATS WHY I WILL VOTE FOR H.R CLINTON, BECAUSE I AM NOT WILLNG TO TAKE A CHANCE.

    January 29, 2008 08:48 am at 8:48 am |
  2. Will

    I don't think so. Barack's body language spoke volumes.

    January 29, 2008 08:48 am at 8:48 am |
  3. James

    I think Obama was trying to avoid Hillary. I know you want to make a dig at Hillary ,jessica.It just shows how Oboma really is. Hillary 08

    January 29, 2008 08:50 am at 8:50 am |
  4. B, Atlanta

    There goes Obama's End of Tit-for-tat politics. This Guy is egoistic maniac and I am not sure why people vote him. Nothing different with HRC either.

    January 29, 2008 08:51 am at 8:51 am |
  5. lynn parker

    Obama may be Book Smart, BUT HE SURE HAS A LONG WAY TO GO AS FAR AS BEING A DIPLOMAT!!!!!!!! HOW CAN HE POSSIBLY DEAL AND NEGOTIATE WITH FOREIGN DIPLOMATS. WILL HE ALSO TURN HIS BACK ON THOSE WHO DO NOT AGREE WITH HIM?

    TED KENNEDY MAY HAVE NOT ENDORSED HILLARY (mistake) BUT HE SHOOK HER HAND AND THEY EXCHANGED GREETINGS.

    January 29, 2008 08:51 am at 8:51 am |
  6. Theresa

    Of course you feel like Kennedy betrayed you. All you ever think about are how white women feel. Did it ever occur to you that Obama may be the best choice period.

    January 29, 2008 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  7. Marianne

    This shows IMMATURITY of Senator Obama, this shows why he shouldn't be the nominee for the democratic party.

    January 29, 2008 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  8. Renee' Va.

    So do I Kevin.

    January 29, 2008 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  9. Jon, Pittsburgh, PA

    And Obama is the kind of person we need as president? The word "immature" comes to mind. And, "disrespectful".

    January 29, 2008 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  10. B

    That is incredibly childish! This is the man we want to be our president?! What a doofus.

    Go Hillary!

    January 29, 2008 08:56 am at 8:56 am |
  11. Barbara

    So what? No smoke, let alone fire, in this non-story. They're opponents. I'd just as soon they not pretend to be friends.

    January 29, 2008 08:56 am at 8:56 am |
  12. Boomer 4 Obama

    Could it be someone in the back called out his name?

    Our kids and grandkids already have it figured out and I, too. have turned the page on this pettiness and look forward to seeing Obama doing the speech next year!

    January 29, 2008 08:57 am at 8:57 am |
  13. glavela

    I posted a comment you chose to ignore it. Be fair.
    This picture shows yet again a peevish moment of Obama.......

    January 29, 2008 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  14. kathy

    I applaud Jessica Yellin for posting this article – the NYTimes today also noted this lack of professional courtesy moment today...

    where's the diverse conversation we keep hearing about?

    January 29, 2008 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  15. Mike

    Agreed. This isn't news. This is something I would expect to read in the National Enquirer.

    January 29, 2008 08:59 am at 8:59 am |
  16. Silvia

    The lack of civility expressed by Senator Obama speaks volumes. That he would turn his back, is so sophmoric. It's ironic that another woman would have to rescue him from his gaffe.

    January 29, 2008 08:59 am at 8:59 am |
  17. Joy in SC

    I've done that before. It was in high school, and I was trying to avoid and ex-boyfriend. Some grow up, some don't.

    January 29, 2008 08:59 am at 8:59 am |
  18. Dan, TX

    No Way either will be VP. This is a battle between old politics and new politics.

    January 29, 2008 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  19. Steve

    Clinton's called for civility before. The same day, she had one of her cronies attack Obama (Sen. Rangel). I can forgive him for not trusting what the Clintons say. They don't have the best history when dealing with the truth.

    January 29, 2008 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  20. steve

    Civility...at this point, it is survival for her.

    January 29, 2008 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  21. Faber

    How idiotic! I am a woman and I'm offended that Hillary Clinton is the only female that we can find to represent us at this level in the political world! I don't "bake cookies" and here in Montana "White Water" means fast moving water on a river!!! We in Montana had our own "Hillary", named Judy Martz, as a Governor. Let me put it nicely – It was a fiasco! We had bumper stickers with "Our Governor is Dumber Than Yours" on them. Unfortunately that statement was fact.

    If we are going to have a woman President please let's make certain that she is competent, tactful yet firm and ethical. Remember, the President represents us to the World.

    January 29, 2008 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  22. Christine

    I couldn't agree more. Why would any SANE person run for President when the press moves in like locusts, distorts every tiny moment in its quest for ratings, then moves on to its next victim?

    I fear the people most qualified to be President are intelligent to know not to run for the job.

    January 29, 2008 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  23. David,Roanoke,VA

    Give me a break.

    When the media can't find conflict in something, they try to invent some.

    Would CNN have been happier if things had turned out like a press conference before a big boxing match?

    The fighters are onstage, and begin by exchanging a few forced compliments, then move on to insults and a heated exchange, finally charging each other and grappling on the podium, only to be seperated by their corner men and security.

    You're CNN, for God's sake!! Not some tabloid rag. Get it together, and report on things that are important, and stop going for the cheap stuff.

    January 29, 2008 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  24. Boca

    I heard there was an awkward moment in the bathroom too.

    January 29, 2008 09:02 am at 9:02 am |
  25. jd

    So much for Obama's wanting to unite the nation. If he can't make peace with Hillary then he surely can't bring politicians together!!

    January 29, 2008 09:02 am at 9:02 am |
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