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. John, New York, NY

    Kevin...absolutely. This story reads like a group of junior high school girls gossiping about "who talked to who" at the dance last night.

    C'mon CNN....give us less of Jessica Yellin and Jeanne Moos and more of John King and Jeffrey Toobon!

    January 29, 2008 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  2. BeFair

    Well, they call him the 'Uniter' who can reach across the aisle. He couldn't even stretch his arms. When you start observing a person, all his true colors will show up. It's just that he was not put under the lens all this time.

    He is not going to change anything. He's just a FRESH POLITICAN, and looks like he might turn into more cunning and cut throat than rest.

    January 29, 2008 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  3. Alison, FL

    I agree Kevin...ridiculous! Enough already! Now the women are going to feel sorry for her for getting "snubbed" by Obama...I really dont' think that is what happened. I think he turned to give them privacy. He is not a phony and probably had nothing to say to her at this point. Her and her husband tried to bury him...i would be pissed too!

    January 29, 2008 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  4. Kathy

    Kevin is right. The media is reading too much into this. Obama is a gentleman and, as such, he was giving Hillary and Senator Kennedy a private moment. Had he not, the media would have said he was "overshadowing them."

    January 29, 2008 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  5. ca

    Give me a break. Slow news day?

    January 29, 2008 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  6. crane

    It sounds like Obama went out of his way not to shake Hillary's hand or speak to her since senators on either side of him not only shook hands but spoke with her while Obama "turned away" "to look at the back of the room". Though I agree you are trying to stir things up, it'll be interesting to see how this plays out in the press or if it'll come back around to somehow be Hillary's fault..........again. I'm keeping an open mind and still haven't decided which one – if either – will get my vote. The media twists so much, it's hard to tell who said what as it seems everything is taken out of context. I'll be watching more debates and will continue to read up on each of them.

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

    I thought Sen. Barak Obama is suppossed to be the uniter? The one who can bring all sides together. It looks to me that he is showing his inability to be gracious, to be able to put his personal feelings aside, and shake hands with someone who does not agree with him. The President of The United States MUST be able to get along with everyone in Washington, not to mention the WORLD. It seems to me that this photo captures an important reminder of Sen. Obama's immaturity, inexperience, and the fact that he is NOT truly a uniter.

    January 29, 2008 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  8. Cory, PA

    CNN, honestly, whocares? If the only thing you have for reporters to do is to see how candidates are going to behave within a 5 minute time period, you need to either start laying people off, learn some better reporting, or pick a different topic all together. You have read into this too much, give me a break.

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

    Drama must have drama – is news without conflict news? Will the media continue to stoop to a new low in this campaign – will we get real information about the candidates plans –

    And if Hillary turned her back – oh what a scandal we would have!!

    January 29, 2008 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  10. Get it Right

    who cares....

    January 29, 2008 09:25 am at 9:25 am |
  11. rabblerouser

    You mean the sainted Obama is criticized in a CNN article? My, what is this country coming to?

    Obama hates Clinton, and that's been apparent since his snide remark during the NH debate that she's "likeable enough". When she was in the forefront, he whined and cried and gave a nod to those who called the Clintons racist. His lack of experience is telling – he doesn't even know how to play politics and pretend the be civil before the world. This is someone we want to send to Washington? No thank you.

    January 29, 2008 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  12. charlotte

    A UNITER, I think not. Future man needs Old guard to protect him. This was RUDE.

    January 29, 2008 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  13. S Williams

    She makes enemies, even of someone as easy-going as Obama.

    January 29, 2008 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  14. Sean, Boston, MA

    Let's overanalyze this, too.

    I love how the media only plays the soundbite of Bill saying that Jesse won SC, but they don't play the conversation that was had before (about SC winners, historically), so now it is drama!

    January 29, 2008 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  15. E. in Dallas, TX

    Lame, next story. There are some people there saying that she missed Obama's hand reaching out, too. Get over it. Just another akward moment on the job.

    January 29, 2008 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  16. trisha2

    Barack looks and acts like what he will be: a loser.

    January 29, 2008 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  17. Rick

    Wow, Obama gives Hillary the freeze out. Good job at uniting the party Obama.

    Is he going to do that to world leaders if he becomes president?

    January 29, 2008 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  18. F. Lynn

    I think it's much ado about nothing

    January 29, 2008 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  19. Say What?!

    First of all, who's to say that they hadn't already spoken before they ever even entered the Chamber? That was nothing to report.

    January 29, 2008 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  20. CNN post my comments

    Obama is an angry man. He looks bitter inside. The picture certainly makes him look unpresidential. On a funny note, Obama actually looks like a bodyguard to the big boy – Ted.

    CNN, you can portray a different image of Obama but pictures don't lie. He certainly does not look and act like the next president of the United States.

    Actions speak louder than words. Change is good but what kind of change. Obama is not JFK

    I know CNN will not post this comment

    January 29, 2008 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  21. Hannah Lewin

    I think this is just another example of Barack Obama's small mindedness, as he showed during the debate when he said Hilliary was "likable enough". How will he react when world leaders say disparaging things about him – diss them!!

    You saw the difference in reaction between Ted Kennedy (experience) and Barack Obama (childishness!).

    Hannah Lewin

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

    This is such a dumb story.

    January 29, 2008 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  23. jeannine

    ted kennedy is an oaf

    January 29, 2008 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  24. OJC, Phoenix, AZ

    I am sure they see and hear enough of each other on the campaign trail. Why is this news?

    January 29, 2008 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  25. Archie H.

    Don't you just love the hypocrisy of the politics of democrats! Work together respect etc. Only 10 more months of this dog and pony show!

    January 29, 2008 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81