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. Joojo

    And he calls himself the uniter. Just take a good look at him. This guy is the biggest pretender. I wonder what Wolf Blitzer, John King, Anderson Cooper or Gloria Borger would say if Clinton had done that.

    January 29, 2008 12:04 am at 12:04 am |
  2. DMC, USA

    I think this non-verbal reaction on the part of Obama demonstrates intense personal feelings on Mr. Obama's part. It takes little to extend a hand in civility and confidence, but it didn't happen. It makes me seriously doubt whether Mr. Obama has the actual fortitude and forthrightness to stand up outside of his typical and tiresome rhetorical performances. Life does not happen in a planned and prepared manner. Opportunities present themselves over and over. I have yet to see Mr. Obama take advantage of these in this campaign. I sense a lagging confidence as he begins to realize the full weight of his choices. I see doubt and I have no more patience for doubt in a person who would be president.

    January 29, 2008 12:04 am at 12:04 am |
  3. bannon

    Looks like obama raciest, childish and whiner, how can he turn turned away is he not man to take that, man this shows the character of this person. If someone want to vote him then god should really bless America

    January 29, 2008 12:05 am at 12:05 am |
  4. Dennis

    I'm still waiting to hear something important.

    January 29, 2008 12:05 am at 12:05 am |
  5. It's the Media

    Where is the UNITY? It's all talk. Here was the perfect opportunity for the dems to show unity and he blew it. Shame.

    January 29, 2008 12:05 am at 12:05 am |
  6. Robert J Sutton

    I couldn't agree with Kevin more. We are getting dangerously close to cheerleader locker room gossip here. Let's try and be objective, maybe even report the news. Leave the gossip and speculation to the kids in high school please.

    January 29, 2008 12:05 am at 12:05 am |
  7. Joe

    If Clinton was trying to ruin my livlihood I wouldn't talk to her either.

    January 29, 2008 12:05 am at 12:05 am |
  8. ThatGuy

    When the modern faces of evil clash, it is ugly for all to see. Only one can get credit for destroying America, and they would gladly destroy each other to get it.

    January 29, 2008 12:05 am at 12:05 am |
  9. Dan Campbell

    Let's see here: hope, civility and 'working together'. Hmmm?

    Actions speak louder than words (no matter how artful and inspiring they sound). If Obama wins the nomination, he will unfortunately learn that reconciling these words with action will be necessary. Let us all "hope".

    January 29, 2008 12:06 am at 12:06 am |
  10. kathy

    proving he doesn't have what it takes to work effectively in Washington .... and should learn from Ted... but he relly blew his moment of statesmanship...he really is all talk isn't he.

    January 29, 2008 12:06 am at 12:06 am |
  11. Azeem

    the way both clinton and obama are going at it almost makes you think that they're trying to get the republican nomination.

    January 29, 2008 12:06 am at 12:06 am |
  12. some guy

    Obama - the CIVIL and cordial president who does not hold grudges and will unite this country.

    NOT.

    January 29, 2008 12:06 am at 12:06 am |
  13. Paul Rubin

    Jessica Yellin, are you a political commentator or a girl in high school? You should be ashamed of yourself. The country and world are in sorry shape and I'm reading about body language? Give me a break.

    January 29, 2008 12:07 am at 12:07 am |
  14. P-CA

    It had been Senator Obama's day. He had been endorsed by the head of "America's Family" and yet, when it was time to behave in a gracious manner, he flinched. Who was the adult here? Not Senator Obama, but a woman who has had to learn how to behave graciously in any number of difficult situations. Now that's the kind of behavior and strength I want in the White House, not someone who will turn his back on a difficulty. We certainly cannot afford to have another president who won't talk to people he doesn't like.

    January 29, 2008 12:07 am at 12:07 am |
  15. Ugh

    This is rock stupid reporting. Just knock it off already.

    January 29, 2008 12:07 am at 12:07 am |
  16. Texan

    Let the American Public see Obama for what he is. He will never hoodwink and bedazzle me.
    Okydoky.

    January 29, 2008 12:07 am at 12:07 am |
  17. Tony.A Goodyear AZ

    All it shows is that these people despite their credentials are at the end of the day, just people. A lot of manure was slung back and forth between those two, some of it still sticking and cloying.

    January 29, 2008 12:07 am at 12:07 am |
  18. observer

    I don’t think they are. The moment was really pathetic. However, I do expect from CNN to somehow turn this into Hillary’s fault, even better Bill’s, and inflate it out of proportions.

    January 29, 2008 12:07 am at 12:07 am |
  19. Randal, Birmingham, AL

    Rude Obama, very rude!!!
    After winning SC (backed by a HUGE HUGE African American vote ofcourse), it seems he thinks he is the king. He seems to be on cloud nine! Wait until reality hits him on Feb 5th!!!

    January 29, 2008 12:08 am at 12:08 am |
  20. Sam

    LOL LOL LOL...i have no idea why this makes me laugh so hard!...

    Don't you just love awkward moments like these!!!?.....

    January 29, 2008 12:09 am at 12:09 am |
  21. CHRIS DIONEDA NASHVILLE ILLINOIS

    obama i deserves to be endorsed by a loser like kennedy who lost the nomination in the past.

    January 29, 2008 12:09 am at 12:09 am |
  22. GreatStuff

    I so love it, Hillary is afraid of no one and least of all Ted Kennedy. Great stuff!

    Go Hillary!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 29, 2008 12:09 am at 12:09 am |
  23. Cyrus

    Hear, Hear! C'mon, CNN, find some real news instead of trying to stir up fights!

    January 29, 2008 12:09 am at 12:09 am |
  24. Sheri

    Most of the people don't like Hillary, me too !!!!!

    January 29, 2008 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  25. MARYLOU JONES

    WE ALL SAW THIS! CHILDISH OBAMA, VERY CHILDISH! HOW ARE YOU EVER GOING TO LAST IN WASHINGTON???

    January 29, 2008 12:10 am at 12:10 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