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. Sherry

    If he can not be civil to her, how can we expect him to treat the leaders of other countries?

    January 29, 2008 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  2. Jay

    Stop looking for controversy, CNN. You are beginning to sound and look just like Fixed News (aka Fox).

    To the writer to this little story, maybe you would feel the same way either of them felt.

    January 29, 2008 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  3. S. Agriss

    So much for the candidate that promises to bring people together. As with his record, he's a lot of talke and little action.

    January 29, 2008 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  4. Isaac

    WE WOULDNT BE SO DIVIDED IF THE MEDIA DIDN'T TRY SO HARD TO STIR UP HATRED AND DIVISION. THIS PICTURE MEANS NOTHING AT ALL.
    1. This is just a moment captured in less than a second.
    2. We dont know what happened before or after the picture was taken.
    3. May be they shook hands before or after.
    4. Its clear Hillary is rying to reach someones hand beyond Obama. May be he is just giving way for her to reach.
    5. CNN. Please leave divisive reporting to FOX.

    January 29, 2008 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  5. S. Agriss

    So much for the candidate that promises to bring people together. As with his record, he's a lot of talk and little action.

    January 29, 2008 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  6. Renee' Va.

    I think so too Kevin

    January 29, 2008 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  7. karl from congo

    c'mon

    January 29, 2008 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  8. Terry

    Maybe the "reading' is just right......

    January 29, 2008 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  9. John, OH

    So much about being a nice guy...

    January 29, 2008 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  10. Mike

    The media can't get it right again!!

    January 29, 2008 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  11. Holly

    I agree. I think you are reading to much into it. This really seems like something that belongs in a gossip column and not a political ticker in CNN

    January 29, 2008 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  12. Don

    Obama is too cool for school! Hello to our first hip-hop President!

    Obama 08

    January 29, 2008 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  13. Roxanne NY

    Nice "Change" Barack! We got to get a glimpse of it!

    January 29, 2008 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  14. Justin, Houston, TX

    I think the look on his face in this picture says a great deal about the character of this man. Also, every debate where he tries to throw dirt at Clinton, you notice he turns for just a second but never looks her in the eye. Even he knows that getting to the White House this way is shameful for him.

    I think it's kinda sad this country never learns. We just watched an inexperienced President give his last SOTU after the destruction he caused for 7 years. Now, some seem intent on having another President-in-Training for the next 7 years.

    Where's the CHANGE in that?

    January 29, 2008 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  15. TJ

    Kevin I agree... Who cares?!

    January 29, 2008 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  16. Jessica

    The Media Seems To Care More about the divisions in our political system than we the people care about.

    January 29, 2008 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  17. David

    The Clintons have been less than kind to Obama. I can see why he ignored her.

    January 29, 2008 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  18. What would you do?

    Kudos to Barack for not playing the typical two-faced political game. Some might say he's being a baby, but see how you would react if the Clintons' had been spreading such utter lies about you and trying to smear a campaign that you're at least TRYING to run cleanly.

    Big, huge, fake smile... shaking with her right hand and stabbing you with the left.

    January 29, 2008 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  19. Jo Stokes

    So, Obama had his day, now can we get back to the issues? When is the media going to start asking him tough questions? I think it is time to get over enjoying the flavor of the month and get back to the issues and who can better handle them. It is time that women have a voice, and Hillary is that women. We have always been told what it's best for us by men. I don't know of any man that has been pregnantor had a menstrual period and yet the know what it's best for our bodies and our families. There are very few men that can juggle work, kids and handle a household budget. Bill may have been the president but Hillary has always been the strong one and the one with the most brilliant mind.

    January 29, 2008 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  20. Andrew

    Obama probably thought it would be awkward to be staring at Hillary when she was talking someone else. If he had, the headline would have been "Obama stares down Clinton" which would have not been good.

    January 29, 2008 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  21. Sarah

    ditto

    January 29, 2008 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  22. NO REAL NEWS TO REPORT

    CNN, YOU ARE REACHING AGAIN!

    January 29, 2008 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  23. Renee

    It's unfortunate that they are unable to be diplomatic in this situation. I still support Obama 100%, but I believe he missed an opportunity to rise above.

    January 29, 2008 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  24. Jo Stokes

    Let's get back to the issues. The flavor of the month is getting old.

    January 29, 2008 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  25. Kelly

    Wow CNN, This is so third grade. Like totally.

    Clinton and Obama sat very far away from each other. Clinton worked the room shaking hands and greeting folks. Obama glared at Clinton the whole time. Clinton shakes had of Senator Kennedy, whom didn't endorse her, endorsed Obama, and was sitting next to Obama. Obama turned away so he didn't have to shake Clinton's hand. Clinton didn't try to say hi to Obama inspite the fact Obama turned away. President Bush shook Obama's hand, but not Clinton's.

    Really?? I suppose Bush didn't say anything that surprised me or that was worth writing about in the ticker, so here you have it. Third Grade Politics. Seems like we are trying to elect the next American Idol instead of the next leader of our country.

    It slightly concerns me that the Repubs are embracing Obama (including Cowboy Bush)... One could argue that Obama brings folks together. Well, that's one way to look at it. But to be honest, there are so many ways to look at it if you're really looking.

    I'm leary of anyone that Bush embraces. One would think that a democrate of color who is threatening to change the system would run into resistance from the "Old White Boy" club. Or, wait... Obama never said WHAT he was going to change actually. He's rather abstract with his speeches. He lets us fill in the blank from our own ideals of what he's going to change, and it's working – or so it seems.

    January 29, 2008 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
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