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. Fa'iz

    Why is this even in the news?

    January 29, 2008 09:10 am at 9:10 am |
  2. Hillbilly for Hillbilly

    Notice: "Obama turned away". He had several chances to appear like a uniter, but he didn't.
    Ha! What a uniter.

    January 29, 2008 09:10 am at 9:10 am |
  3. Esther

    THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING OF HIS REAL ATTITUDE..JUST WAIT. HE IS NOT A MAN ENOUGH... HE SHOULD DO THE FIRST MOVE...BUT SWAY HIMESELF AWAY

    January 29, 2008 09:10 am at 9:10 am |
  4. SJohn

    So much for Obama's inclusion of one's enemies.

    January 29, 2008 09:10 am at 9:10 am |
  5. CST

    So much for not being divisive and trying to change the tone. He looked like a spoiled brat who was taking his ball and going home. It almost looked as if he was jealous that Clinton was talking to "his guy".....once again..NOT READY FOR PRIMETIME.

    January 29, 2008 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  6. Joss

    Yeah I don't really see what the big deal here is. This is not news.

    January 29, 2008 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  7. J. McKinney SW MO

    Wow! Sounds like Obama is in a first grader snit. That is really poor, to be sullen in a situation like that. Since Clinton was shaking hands with everyone else around him, (even Kennedy) I am sure she was willing to engage Obama, also, but he was making sure it didn't happen. I am in MO, and McCaskell will never get my vote again. Looks like she engaged Obama in conversation in order to make him not look quite so foolish and childish. Boy, if he is going to start this kind of pouting around this soon, those of you who are backing him need to think about it. He might pout when he should be talking to Putin. LOL
    We need some experience here, not a sulled up, pouting little boy. We need Hillary!

    January 29, 2008 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  8. Tiffany Williams

    Certainly, silence is more civil than argument. After Bill Clinton's, "Jesse Jackson won South Caroline, too" comment, I might've broken my neck to ignore good old Hill, too.

    January 29, 2008 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  9. Ean

    Who cares...you're going way to far with this...stop trying to make something out of nothing.

    January 29, 2008 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  10. Sam

    After all the mud Clintons threw at him, I would also be hesitant to shake her hand.

    January 29, 2008 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  11. New York City

    If one had said as much about you, Jessica. Would you extend the olive branch so willingly?

    January 29, 2008 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  12. edu

    Obama has taken the trouble before to try to greet hillary but hillary ignored him. Once bitten twice shy.

    January 29, 2008 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  13. God Help US All, Atlanta,Georgia

    Another example of the media trying to make news, rather than reporting the news.

    January 29, 2008 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  14. Observer

    Would you shake the hand that betrays you?

    January 29, 2008 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  15. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    These two are not on the best of terms since they are both fighting for the nomination. I think that after this is over, then they will support the other who gets the nomination. It might be with some reservations (I wish I were the one).

    Honestly, there is a bit much reading into this brief encounter. There are 535 members of Congress (not that all were there). There are bound to be people that are deep in though that really don't want to think about talking to anyone else.

    January 29, 2008 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  16. Karl Warrington

    Obama is going to have to get behind Hillary when she eventually wins. I am glad to here Sen. Kennedy reached out to Hillary and she recipricated. Mr. Obama should not take this stuff personally, it just politics. How will he handle the Republican's attacks which will be 10 X the beating? Hillary knows how to deal with the highs and the lows of a campaign that's why ultimately she is the horse to bet on if you are hoping for a Democrat win in Nov.

    January 29, 2008 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  17. Amy in Cincy

    Keep stirring the pot, CNN.

    January 29, 2008 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  18. Andrew

    She was shakeing hands to those who wanted to shake. This is all Obama, he was clearly avoiding the issue, we don't need a president who 'avoids" issues that may be a little sticky now do we?

    January 29, 2008 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  19. Sharon

    Aw, poor baby Barack – can't face a woman who smarter than he is. What a whiner; what a snob. That was not a gentlemenly thing to do . . . his supporters should realize that this is an example of his hypocrisy! He says he will bring everyone together but he can't even face shaking the hand of his one opponent. This behavior is no example of how someone brings people together – it's an example of how he will alienate many.

    January 29, 2008 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  20. Pickles, Monaca, PA

    Mountain out of a mole hill.

    January 29, 2008 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  21. Jean Kehler

    This shows me how Mr. Obama will handle foreign affairs. If they don't agree with him he will turn away.

    January 29, 2008 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  22. Marhya

    Apparently, Obama is not two-faced and willing to curry political favor whenever the opportunity presents itself...um, unusual for a politician.

    January 29, 2008 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  23. Jenny Beagle

    Who cares!!!!

    January 29, 2008 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  24. Nick

    Agreed. Don't waste your time commenting on this tabloid, people. It will only make us look stupid by even responding to this. (Myself included, but I have a good sense of humility.) I hope Jessica Yellin (reporter) gets promoted soon and doesn't have to be on the "Hillary & Obama Silent Treatment" detail.

    January 29, 2008 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  25. Ray

    Another reason why Obama will not and should not be the party nominee. This photo says it all...what happens when he has to come face to face with a Leader from a foreign country like Iran. Will he turn his back too... so the rest of the world can see how childish American's are?

    January 29, 2008 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
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