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. Karim

    Dear Sir !!!? Hi

    I as non -American watching state of union every year not to get some thing
    new not at all , just I watch to see how Republicans !!! reacts to their
    beloved !? president and clapping non stop some times with hip hip hura!??

    while Democrats are in silence , Republicans befor put their hands together
    and stanovation !! just look at the other side of aile !!?

    Why !? they want to remember for next years wheather Hillary or Obama
    behind podium and do the same thing ? that is funny for me
    I don,t know it is for you too

    January 29, 2008 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  2. REPTILE

    If I was in a dying condition I'd never allow a convincing TV actor doctor operate on me... In reality shaking hands is a daily issue to AMERICANS WITHOUT HEALTH INSURANCE!!! Hillary will NEVER understand the regular everyday struggles no matter what!!

    January 29, 2008 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  3. Nancy Tc

    Obama, you are showing your true colors.

    Your words of unity are not true. Look at what you did last night. You too could have acted like Teddy and extended your arm, but instead you acted like a coward.

    I really don't know what people see in Obama. He is one of those candidates the senators want because they know they will be able to control him.

    Obama, show some respect. Senator Clinton is the Senator of New York and was also the First Lady of the United States.

    I was happy to see President Bush totally ignore you last night, even though you were trying so hard to get his attention. You really disgust me.

    January 29, 2008 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  4. Zsanett

    I wonder if Obama really has the poise required for this position. This is a perfect example of what the Presidents job is all about.

    January 29, 2008 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  5. amle

    It shows Barack Hussein Obamas immaturity.

    January 29, 2008 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  6. Alice in Florida

    He looks like the big sulking crybaby he is

    January 29, 2008 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  7. Bob

    Kennedy's King threw a Kaniphchin in front of Congress.

    January 29, 2008 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  8. Brad, Omaha NE

    when did CNN become TMZ?

    and did someone forget to airbrush wolf blitzers ta ta's?

    noticed he was looking a little flat last night. not enough color.

    now if only i could get someone to tell me what britney spears is sleeping with this week.

    January 29, 2008 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  9. Karen

    It is very uncomfortable to watch a forty-six year old pout.

    January 29, 2008 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  10. EmmyG

    Obama continues to show that he is simply not Presidential material. How childish and...unstatesman like.

    January 29, 2008 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  11. ZAC

    ISSUES PLEASE. THIS PHOTO 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 Obama is just giving way for her to reach.
    5. CNN. You can do better than that.

    January 29, 2008 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  12. David

    this is a nonsense news. It is professional bankruptcy on the part of CNN. why she was talking to Obama? she was talking to the man who was sitting next to him. why not to say hello to Obama? does your news make any sense?

    January 29, 2008 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  13. E.L.T

    How convenient not to show the entire picture. Perfect example of making something out of nothing. Obama was focused on something else, and he, like the man behind him, was clapping. I saw both the S.O.T.U. address and the full photo.

    January 29, 2008 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  14. Linny

    It looked to me Cliton was very open to all around her. It was Obama who showed the immature side. I would think someone running for the President of the United States would be more mature and professional. Or maybe it was just the lack of political experience. I was an undecided voter but am no longer.

    January 29, 2008 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  15. yelling and screaming

    That Jessica Yellin should stop Yelling anti Clinton reporting and start working for lets see may be national inquirer she deserves to work there not on CNN
    sorry

    January 29, 2008 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  16. Renee

    This is another spin on a photo which clearly shows another person reaching out to shake her hand. The media needs to stop with this crap! CNN is turning into the Jerry Springer Show!

    January 29, 2008 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  17. Nerakami

    CNN has a point. What we want is not only a President who can set America back on the right path towards economic growth and international respect, but someone who can rise above the petty foolishness of Washington. We want an example of "right behavior" and not "tit for tat". If Barack and Hillary could show us how to transcend the typical egotistic reaction to an adversary, then we would certainly have more confidence that they will be able to break down the doors of bi-partisan politics to accomplish more in Congress.

    I am trusting that Barack Obama will gain better insight in figuring out how best to win over rather than alienate one's opponents.

    January 29, 2008 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  18. Marco

    As president, Obama has said he would meet with the U.S.'s enemies without precondition. But making nice with Clinton apparently is another mattter after the increasingly angry fight the two have waged, with charges and countercharges, for the Democratic presidential nomination. Obama displayed poor judgement. Bill Clinton was right- Obama is the biggest fairy tale around.

    January 29, 2008 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  19. Lucas, Columbia, SC

    Looks like Clinton snubbed Obama from the other pictures of the event.

    January 29, 2008 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  20. MIKE

    Between Bill and Hillary's despicable antics and attacks, why should he want to talk to her?

    January 29, 2008 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  21. Corey Tapper

    Hillary Clinton seemed to at least rise to the occasion here. She could have completely ignored all of those Congress-people who support Barack. Barack could have been civil, but he didn't even give Hillary the chance to say hello.

    That is not good character. If he cannot even be civil enough to acknowledge his own party member, how exactly is he going to work with Republicans if he is elected. At least Hillary tried. She's got my vote.

    January 29, 2008 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  22. Dennis H

    Why is this such a big deal? The question should be, why didn't the president shake Hillary's hand or why she left SC before thanking her supporters for their vote? Is this an example of what she will do if she becomes president? Or a even bigger question, why did she cancel the interview after President Bush speech? These are the questions that interest me and I'm sure others.

    January 29, 2008 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  23. Tom, PA

    You all know that if Hillary shunned Obama there would be headlines calling her racist and a sore loser! But when Obama does this, it is no big deal. All I know is that I do not want this man as my President if this is how he acts.

    Kind of reminds me of high school!

    Hillary 08

    January 29, 2008 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  24. Ocean

    Who Cares? the media cares. They are all over it with much delight. Like, I have been saying, the media is the one fanning the flames, mischaracterizing, misinterpreting and distorting what one side especially, the Clintons say and do (just like "fairytale, MLK/LBJ, Jesse Jackson, race, Iowa, etc.). Shame on them ALL, CNN, MSNBC, NYTimes, ABC, etc.

    January 29, 2008 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  25. Caitlin

    I interpreted the moment as Clinton being a unifier with Congressional partners, while Obama looks like it is "My way or the highway". Didn't we just have one of those for the past 7 years?

    At least Ted Kennedy acknowledged she was a member of Congress and a fellow Senator.

    Did McCaskill realize what he looked like and tried to cover for him by refocusing him?

    I am a proud Floridian. Even though my own Democratic party has denied delegates to the Convention, I voted for Hillary. I want someone that knows what they face on the first day and now the "politics of the Beltway."

    January 29, 2008 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
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