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. Lei An

    Clinton showed the poise that she has always had. That's why she is the better candidate.

    January 29, 2008 09:02 am at 9:02 am |
  2. Tom

    Mr. Obama, the agent of change and anti-polarization crusader can't even shake the hand or acknowledge Ms. Clinton as she shakes the hand of a fair weather friend Ted Kennedy standing right next to Obama.
    Obama's the one who turned his back on an opportunity to mend a fence and yet this is the guy who says he will engage enemies of the US in conversation to settle differences or find a common ground.
    I think we've seen that Obama can't handle a small feud in full view of millions so how will he handle Iran or conflict in the congress as president?
    I'd really like to hear how explains this one away.

    Tom

    January 29, 2008 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  3. Anonymous

    I agree

    January 29, 2008 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  4. josh

    SILENCE IS GOLDEN

    January 29, 2008 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  5. Sean

    Who cares?

    January 29, 2008 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  6. AMM

    ME TOO> And so it goes for the Clinton News Network.

    January 29, 2008 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  7. Chris

    I love hypocritical politicians. Democrats always talk about unity and speaking for the entire country, but when it comes down to it, they can't even look each other in the eye with civility.

    January 29, 2008 09:04 am at 9:04 am |
  8. May

    I agree

    January 29, 2008 09:04 am at 9:04 am |
  9. J of ARK

    Who does this say the most about? Obama dissing and dismissing Hillary – I think! This goes along with his comment: "your likeable – enough." He seems to be unable to take any high road on this interaction with a strong female leader. Women – haven't you seen this before??

    January 29, 2008 09:04 am at 9:04 am |
  10. Tom

    Just a comment on what millions saw. The explanation is simple, he turned and ran hoping to find a friend to talk to. Pretty sad.

    January 29, 2008 09:04 am at 9:04 am |
  11. Mark

    This is a mistake on Obama's part. He needs to show he can rise above the mud-slinging. It's the same as when he allowed Clinton to get under his skin at the last debate.

    January 29, 2008 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  12. Hey look over here

    That's politics for you. After Obama gets the nomination, they'll all be kissing each other's butts again.

    January 29, 2008 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  13. Betty Webster NY

    And that is exactly what creeps me out about Obama. I cannot get a fix on who he really is. And actions like turning his back and refusing to acknowledge his opponent does not give me a comfy feeling.

    January 29, 2008 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  14. anonymous

    thanks for removing my comment....I guess it wasn't pro-Obama!!! It's funny that ABC and Fox posted it....it's becoming more obvious who CNN is promoting!!!!

    January 29, 2008 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  15. nancy

    no i think we are seeing the truth. hillary clinton doing the polite and respectful thing and attempting to shake sen. kennedy's hand despite him supporting obama. and clear as can be obama turns his back. apparently he can dish it out but cant take it when he is criticized. very impolite and immature gesture by obama.

    January 29, 2008 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  16. Troy-Boston

    Obama- "the unifier". He is such a charlatan, he disgusts me. Obama reacting like a teenager- somehow NOT surprising at all.

    January 29, 2008 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  17. observer

    Nice Obama, show us a little more of that "Unity" Maybe Obama had a little more on his mind other than the state of the union. My guess is Obama's concern was the revoking of Rezko's bond and how he is going to sell this "change" with old school Kennedy by his side. And ofcourse Kennedy's record is not untarnished. Where was Kennedy on the Family and Medical Leave Act? Change? No thanks, Kennedy can not stand the thought of a woman in the White House, change, no thanks again. Go Hillary. CNN , we would really like an indepth report on the Obama/Rezko relationship.

    January 29, 2008 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  18. Joann

    Obama's such a jerk. All I've seen from his is a constant frown on his face, he never smiles, he's way too serious, he's a cry baby and an whiner. Hillary has been nothing less than a lady. She is always smiling, shaking hands and answering questions and signing autographs with a "smile". Obama looks like he couldn't be bothered. Hillary is holding up very well. She's a strong leader. It seems like the men in this country refuse to support a woman. Obama needs to go to experience camp and come back in 8 years when Hillary's ready to give up h er seat.

    January 29, 2008 09:07 am at 9:07 am |
  19. PAUL PROVIDENCE RI

    Kevin , you are right when it comes to the press.

    January 29, 2008 09:07 am at 9:07 am |
  20. Rachel F.

    This is funny, who wrote this article? This is news?

    January 29, 2008 09:08 am at 9:08 am |
  21. Bobt

    That highly unpresidential. She made repeated effort to get his attention but he repeatedly turned her down. Yet, this man was talking about uniting us and reaching out to every one including our enemies to get things done. He appears to be more polorizing than Clinton. He should wake up and rise up to the challenges. This is United States presidential candidate (and a potential) and he need to carry himself like one. Enough, of childish behavior. The media, certainly will not see this! Give me a break!

    January 29, 2008 09:09 am at 9:09 am |
  22. Thomas Ruggieri

    All this shows me is the split in the democrates and much predujist on both canidates . The republicans are sure to win in November !

    January 29, 2008 09:09 am at 9:09 am |
  23. MAXI

    Kudos to Hillary. She wanted to greet some of her backcrs and showed guts and willingness to face uncomfortable situations head-on if necessary. How is Obama going to unite when he cannot even look at an opponent ? He should have looked Hillary in the eyes and offered to shake her hands.

    January 29, 2008 09:09 am at 9:09 am |
  24. Chris, Jacksonville

    We have become a nation of children.

    January 29, 2008 09:10 am at 9:10 am |
  25. Debbie

    This shows exactly how mature Obama is. Gentleman?NO I really do not care much about this guy. I will vote for Rep. if he ever gets Dem nomination. I'd like to hear his explanation about how he acquired his property in Chicago. Do not act like you are so above other politicians. Nobody is perfect.One more thing ,OBAMALOT means "nothing" to me.

    January 29, 2008 09:10 am at 9:10 am |
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