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. Brendan H., San Antonio, TX

    Barack Obama is giving away the VP slot!!!

    Hillary's going to be the party selction for president and Obama had better learn how to read the tea leaves!!

    January 29, 2008 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  2. Seam, Philly PA

    –CNN's Jessica Yellin is trying to start another brush fire. This is non-sense. Who care's?

    Next issue.

    January 29, 2008 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  3. arvind chhabra

    Yes reading too much into it because obama ignored clinton. If it would have been clinton doing the same it was being rude. Right!!!! OBAMA THE MEDIA BULLBE, YOUR TIME IS UP IN A WEEK!!!!!

    January 29, 2008 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  4. Ron

    What is wrong with the media?? Why are they always trying to make "MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING". If they would spend as much time coming up with really good questions and doing better NEUTRAL investigative reporting as they did trying to STIR UP meaningless controversy, the nation as a whole would be better off. I mean really the Media and it Multiple Polls is the real reason the issue of race and gender is such a BIG deal in this election. CNN is as guilty if not more than all of them. Obama and Hillary are in the middle of a heated contest for THE most powerful position in the world. NO ONE in their RIGHT MIND would expect them to be chummy right now!!

    January 29, 2008 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  5. Alice in Florida

    Well, doesn't Barack look presidential in that photo? Is that how he's going to treat foreign leaders if they say something he doesn't care for?

    January 29, 2008 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  6. Nick, Denham Springs, LA

    ...AND THIS WILL DECIDE WHO BECOMES THE NEXT PRESIDENT OF US ?
    I AGREE YOU ARE READING TOO FAR INTO IT. WE ARE NOT STUPID. BOTH SEN OBAMA AND SEN CLINTON KNOW THAT THEIR EVERY MOVE AND WHAT THEY SAY IS UNDER 24-HOUR SCRUTINY. WHT DO YOU WANT SEN OBAMA TO DO ?.IF HE GIVES AN INSPIRING SPEECH,HE IS ACCUSED OF EMPTY RHETORIC. IF HE OFFERS NO COMMENT,HE IS ACCUSED OF BEING ALOOF.
    ..
    ..Jessica, you are a journalist ,not a tabloid reporter.

    January 29, 2008 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  7. Mr 1st Lady

    Why is this awkward? They are adults, aren't they?

    January 29, 2008 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  8. KC

    Reading too far into it? Why not? Hillary gets blasted for every little thing. Hillary handled the situation with poise-not so with Obama. It's disappointing that Obama's actions don't live up to his words.

    January 29, 2008 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  9. Boomer For Barack

    Bigger question: Why didn't Clinton respond like the three other campaign frontrunners after the State of the Union address??? That seems a bigger slight to her supporters!

    January 29, 2008 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  10. Pieter

    Here it shows what a man Obama is. At least Hillary went over there and faced the confrontation. But Obama chickened out...

    January 29, 2008 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  11. MarkJ

    Obama is a typical spoiled brat that has been handled with kid gloves by the media just because he is black. I'm a white male and wouldn't vote for another immature person for president. This country has had enough of this crap. His inexperience shows and it's not pretty. As far as Hillary goes, she is strong to take all the media hate aimed at her. She just keeps on ticking..good for her, she will get my vote. We need a strong leader not another spoiled immature jerk. I can only imagine what he would do anytime a world leader shows animosity toward him, sulk! Nope, get him out of here. If he can't take Clinton's barbs (during campaigning barbs are thrown to all candidates) how in the heck will he manage all the barbs world leaders will give him? He will cave in after Karl Rove and Republicans finish with him. He needs more life lessons before even thinking about being a leader.

    January 29, 2008 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  12. Weez

    They shake hands plenty.

    I was hoping to see something on the Ticker about why Hillary stood up Anderson Cooper last night. He had a great post-address line-up: Romney, Obama, McCain and Clinton. When it was Hillary's segment Anderson had to say, "Senator Clinton has canceled, literally at the last minute and without explanation." What was up with that?

    January 29, 2008 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  13. JL Trujillo

    Jessica Yellin: Such reporting is irresponsible and demeaning on your part. What trivia. Are you the type of reporter that CNN is sending to such functions? Perhaps in your next article you can write about something of substance in order to exonerate yourself.

    January 29, 2008 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  14. R.G. Stockwell

    Copy of response sent to washington Post –
    E. Robinson Washington Post –grateful, thanks to your opinion (1/29/2008):

    Sir; to you, CNN and its ‘pundits’:

    I am so grateful, finally I can make an ‘enlightened’ decision based on your ‘opinions and what I call the “...bobbing heads...”

    I was concerned about Sen. Obama’s opinions and run for the presidency. I must acknowledge that his psychological emphasis and rebuttals taken from or very similar to former Republican complaints regarding Sen. Clinton and Pres. Clinton were amazing and very unnerving.

    I applauded his statements and platform that he was the candidate to, “...bring America together...” until last night.

    Before the ‘speech, a CNN ‘reporter’ said that Sen. Clinton offered her hand to
    Sens. Kennedy and Obama, and that Sen. Obama (“... peacemaker (?), ...who can work with all members of the legislature and America...”) turned his back on her !

    I, unfortunately, chose to watch ‘president’ Bush offer platitudes and, further, demonstrate his lack of ‘connection to citizens who are unable to meet their needs, because of his lack of knowledge or care for the average and poor of the United States.
    His recent offering, refusing to address the needs of the lowest income brackets, underscores his out-of-touch reality.

    Later, during the “...analysis...” of the State Of the Union Address, another “...bobbing head” stated the she found it interesting that Sen. Clinton, sitting so close to Sens. Obama and Kennedy, did not approach nor acknowledge them....”

    Not once last night nor in you recent opinion did anyone mention this deliberate insult; I wonder, if Sen. Obama is the “...uniter not divider...”, why did he not offer his hand ?
    If he is running to unite these United States, why did he refuse to shake hands ?
    If he wants to move on and, “... make a more united States...”, why can’t he agree to disagree ?

    So, I find that I must thank you and your colleagues for your biased and one-sided reporting, your failures to hold all candidates for office to the same standards and for your continuing failure to acknowledge – address the brilliant psychological-Republican platform of Sen. Obama, who if I did not know (?) would swear that Karl Rove was handling his election campaign !

    Ronald G. Stockwell
    Carneys Point, NJ 08069

    January 29, 2008 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  15. joe

    I wonder why Mr. Obama was unable to show his maturity and why he could not express his hope for peace and reconciliation at least even as a fellow democratic leader.

    January 29, 2008 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  16. Asians for Hillary in Chicago

    Open up your eyes, Obama people!.
    This is how your president-wanna-be is going to behave.
    He acts like a little sissy. He can't stand the heat. He's the one who should wear skirt and pee sitting down. I can't beleive you guys are going to elect this idiot to be your president. He's not going to be my president for sure.

    January 29, 2008 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  17. Optimist

    No thanks for this information

    January 29, 2008 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  18. shamous mc

    So CNN are you implying the politics have become personal?
    Gee, one wonders why.
    The Clintons have that effect on people, you love them or you hate them.

    January 29, 2008 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  19. Ralph

    Why would anyone be surprised by this conduct? Both candidates have run tough talking campaigns, and criticized each other on political and personal levels. I don't think they like each other. Why should they shake hands and have a conversation? I don't hang out with people I despise either.

    January 29, 2008 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  20. Michael

    Wow, what a useless article.

    January 29, 2008 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  21. name

    Is this CNN or TMZ?

    January 29, 2008 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  22. Sherri

    What a telling moment.
    It says alot about the character of each candidate. Of course Obama will ,once again, be given a free ride over his pissy childish behaviour. For some reason he is being treated with kid gloves. By turning his back on Hillary and an awkward situation, he proves his inexperience. If he can't handle a simple civil greeting, like shaking someone's hand, how is he going to "change" and "unite" all Americans?
    Hillary on the hand , has proven that she is graceful under pressure and does not let personal feelings cloud good judgement. Imagine the firestorm of criticism if Hillary did to Obama what he did to her!
    Instead it will be said that Hillary supporters are making too much out of it. But, if this is how acts towards a rival candidate, then how will he act towards the leaders of the countries we are "at war" with when more than a handshake is at stake?

    January 29, 2008 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  23. keith, washington dc

    It's a very awkward time and media would've reported any interaction thoroughly–absent (as it was), who shook whose hand, what kind of look was given, what they might've said to each other, etc. This may or may not have been the best way to avoid excessive interpretation but there's nothing here to read into so let's let it go.

    January 29, 2008 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  24. just a guy

    This isn't news. Please delete this article.

    January 29, 2008 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  25. steve o

    I don't know? Out west where I was raised the rattle snake would give a warning before striking. A king snake was imprevious to the bite of a rattler, therefore it could ignore it. I feel the king snake in this photo was already fed up, thus ignoring the rattler.

    January 29, 2008 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
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