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. Aron, SC

    Mr. Obama is an immatured little child. It would take atleast another 20 years for him to get redy to be a President.

    January 29, 2008 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  2. Dee

    if obama is the uniter that he claims to be i cannot imagine why he would turn away and have an older member of the senate need to pat him on the shoulder. it seemed juvenile like he needed a mother to console him. if that's what he does with his opponents i cannot imagine what he will do to the american people – if they raise issues will he turn his back on us if we give him a hard time. If we question him will it be viewed as an issue of race? Wolfe Blitzer pointed out that he looked toward Clinton when the audience stood to see what she was going to do – and appeared to make his decision from that. who's devisive? no one has vetted these candidates and i believe as Wolfe Blizer said it's getting to the time where we move past flashy speeches and down to who these candidates are. he talks a good game but when challenged hard begins to stammer. take the flashy speeches away, take the devisiveness of leaking the rumor that the gov of kansas will be his VP (a woman) and what you have is someone who is clearly so inexperienced and devisive that he needs to look at his opponent to see what they're doing for something as simple as standing or remaining seated. I guess it's one of those things again where he doesn't vote no, he doesn't vote yes, he needs to have all the facts.
    now he jumps in there where hillary put herself on the line a week ago to ask that the fla delegates be seated because she believes that everyone needs to be included. She also i believe realizes that it will be viewed as devisive and of course knows there will be some political gain and of course if he speaks out it will be because he was concerned with the voters rights being taken away not for political gain. i want a president who leads and doesn't look at others to see what the popular thing to do is and i don't think the observations are incorrect that he did look away rather then look his opponent in the eye. if that's the strength of character he has then my undecided vote will go to . . .

    January 29, 2008 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  3. D. Morris - Calgary, Alberta

    This is a non-thing. Actually, if Obama would have remained in the middle and somewhat engaged then he would be pretty much eavesdropping/intruding on someone else's interaction. Turning for a bit was simply polite. Hillary was not being big about anything – she was required to make this contact with Kennedy in order to demonstrate her comfort with the situation. If she had not done this at some point in the evening then the headlines that followed would have read something like "Clinton Snubs Kennedy". So... Clinton supporters – you are really reaching to try and extract something from nothing.

    January 29, 2008 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  4. rainman

    this is why you vote for Edwards.

    January 29, 2008 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  5. arvind chhabra

    Seems all men are ganging up on a worth woman to prevent becoming a president? Who do they fear? Does the conventional wisdom that woman is worthy to stand by their side if they run for an office. Looks pretty clear obama is leading those worried men in their effort to stop a woman. I wonder who is playing the race card to prevent whom. Wasnt it Opara who said obama is going to realise the dream of Dr King. Alasa that was not racist remark. Well look at your president to be, how much hopefull he looks to face his opponent. I wonder how will he face iranian president??

    January 29, 2008 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  6. Joe, Florida

    Obama missed an opportunity.

    McCaskill tried to suppress the awkward moment by opening conversation with Obama.

    The truth is that Sen. Clinton went past Obama, she did not greet him, and that it's rude.

    Obama could have greeted her and, thus, make her look bad, but I think that out of pride, he decided not to do so.

    January 29, 2008 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  7. Luther Campbell

    THE HYPOCRISY EVIDENT HERE SICKENS ME!!

    IF HILLARY HAD BEEN THE ONE WHO TURNED AWAY CHILDISHLY THE PRESS WOULD HAVE BEEN ALL OVER IT. MSNBC DESCRIBES IT AS "CLINTON, OBAMA KEEP THEIR DISTANCE". wHAT A DISGRACE OF A RAG THAT IS.

    IT IS IN THESE SMALL UNSCRIPTED MOMENTS THAT THE TRUE MEASURE OF A MAN OR WOMAN SHOWS. OBAMA WAS CHURLISH AND CHILDISH HERE BUT HIS MINDLESS SUPPORTERS WILL SO WHAT?? HAD IT BEEN HILLARY IT WOULD HAVE BEEN TOUTED AS ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF HER DIVISENESS.

    SHAME, SHAME.

    NO AFFIRMATIVE ACTION FOR THE PRESIDENCY.

    January 29, 2008 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  8. Teri G.

    Obama has proven to be ungracious time and time again. So much for his politics of HOPE and CHANGE. This folks is called ACTIONS. By his actions, like when he ran out of Nevada when he lost and didn't give a speech thanking his supporters, and what he did last night. That is who he really is. Not the preatty words he repeats that are written by OTHER PEOPLE!

    January 29, 2008 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  9. Martin, PA

    Yeah, Tom in PA, does remind me of high school... with Bill Clinton acting like the big bully and Hill and Bill playing juvenile triangulation games to attack people who aren't in their "clique".

    I wouldn't shake hands with her either.

    January 29, 2008 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  10. Nita

    Yeah Tom PA – you got that right. His staff, his supporters and some media are playing the racist bs to no end. Obama will never make it. HE knows that. The guy walks around like he is GOD. If you don't see that you must be blind. Pretty sad day in our country when some people are being lead so blindly. WE will never vote for Obama. He won't take us like what he did in SC. Clinton 08

    January 29, 2008 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  11. Andrew Brown

    Here is a man that is basing his entire candidacy on "reaching across the aisle" I am a huge fan of Barack Obama, but lets be fair America, regardless of who you support , lets not be blind to whats happening. The media is obviously on the Obama bandwagan, which is turning voters off, Hillary who is one of the strongest women i've ever seen is being forced in a position where she can't say or mention anything negative about Barack Obama without a backlash or race being brought up, however a man is able to throw all the dirt he can find at her. This isn't about poetry or feel good politics its about action at the end of the day. After watching that last debate I decided to support Hillary Clinton instead of Obama whom i've previously supported.

    January 29, 2008 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  12. Scott, Poughkeepsie NY

    This is so ridiculous. The way politics are handled in this country is so completely biased it makes me sick. Hillary Clinton is a strong woman, and so many people cannot stand it. Forget that she is a capable politician, that she has weathered hardships, or that her voting record is nearly identical to Obama's since they've both been in the Senate. No no no! She's a "witch" and divisive, too harsh, too weak, and NEVER gets fair coverage. Everything she does is criticized, while the male candidates haven't had 1/2 the fact checking done of them.

    You'll say, no, I love strong woman. Maybe you even are a woman. It just never happens to be "this" woman. It that doesn't change the fact that Hillary is being treated unfairly, and not being judged on the issues.

    Barak says that he's a uniter, and then he can't even look Hillary Clinton in her face and shake her hand. If someone is going to run on Rhetoric of Hope and this magical ability to unite people, he has to show it. If he were to put forth some substance, than this would be unfair to criticize him over.

    January 29, 2008 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  13. Jeffim, miami

    I JUST CAN'T WAIT FOR THE FLORIDA RESULTS TO COME IT! THAT'S GONNA BE HIS FIRST WAKE UP CALL! THEN TEH TSUNAMI TUESDAY WILL SWEEP AWAY HIS ARROGANT ATTITUDE!
    he comes florida!

    January 29, 2008 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  14. Darrell

    Just shows how childish obama really is..... He reminds me of Bush.

    January 29, 2008 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  15. WAYNE

    Of course it is no big deal when Obama does something but when Hillary breathes the news station jump all over her! It is clear there is a double-standard and as a Black man I am ever more excited and more of a BIGGER supporter of Clinton. We (men) have had our chance to make things right. I believe it is high time to turn the page and turn the job over to the best candidate and only person who I think will bring real contribution and that person just happens to be a woman, the only viable woman to run for President ! We are with you all the way Sen. Clinton !

    This picture says a lot about Obama and what he intends to do if (by a long shot) he wins. His grand speeches about being a uniter is garbage and this "brotha" is not buying it! Sorry. As an educated and professional young man (in 20s) I like to exercise critical thinking and utilize logic and reason and so that's why I am with Sen. Clinton all the way.

    January 29, 2008 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  16. Bob, DC

    On “Morning Joe,” Obama chief strato-man Axelrod said The Snub wasn’t a snub, but simply a matter of Obama dealing with the “awkwardness” of the day and wanting to give Kennedy and Clinton a private moment.

    =======

    It would have been even more awkward had Obama stayed there listening to what Ted and Hillary were saying. Non-story. Move along.

    January 29, 2008 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  17. david

    Just as how he said, "you are likable enough". Didn't act like a true gentleman.

    January 29, 2008 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  18. Luther Campbell

    THE HYPOCRISY EVIDENT HERE SICKENS ME!!

    IF HILLARY HAD BEEN THE ONE WHO TURNED AWAY CHILDISHLY THE PRESS WOULD HAVE BEEN ALL OVER IT. MSNBC DESCRIBES IT AS "CLINTON, OBAMA KEEP THEIR DISTANCE". WHAT A DISGRACE OF A RAG THAT IS.

    IT IS IN THESE SMALL UNSCRIPTED MOMENTS THAT THE TRUE MEASURE OF A MAN OR WOMAN SHOWS. OBAMA WAS CHURLISH AND CHILDISH HERE BUT HIS MINDLESS SUPPORTERS WILL SAY SO WHAT?? HAD IT BEEN HILLARY IT WOULD HAVE BEEN TOUTED AS ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF HER DIVISIVENESS.

    OUR GREAT "UNITER" COULDN'T FOR ONE SINGLE MOMENT GET PAST HIS PETTY JEALOUSIES AND HATRED.

    SHAME, SHAME.

    NO AFFIRMATIVE ACTION FOR THE PRESIDENCY

    January 29, 2008 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  19. Tom Wittmann

    Alice in Florida:
    Of course, this is the advantage of a long time Wahingtonian over a fresh candidate. They learn to be hypocrites and pretend not to care when they are insulted.
    This said, the attitude of Obama was not the correct one for a future President.

    But do not worry, he will learm the necessary much before the end of this year !

    January 29, 2008 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  20. Rama

    This is absurd !! I have seen the last debate.. I can't tell you He is so arrogant in the way he comments about opponents and will not stand on his record !!

    CNN.. you and your so called best team of political analyst.. giving lot of air time and positive about BARAK.. why? and showing bitterness and negative of CLINTON.. why? Be grown up !!

    January 29, 2008 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  21. Allison

    Three things:

    1) It doesn't matter.

    2) From the way it's reported, it sounds as if other people were almost preventing/protecting Obama from Clinton. I mean, Kennedy quickly offered his hand–McCaskill engaged him in conversation. Obviously there is tension, but you can't solely place blame on anyone.

    3) CNN, you're not TMZ. Stick to what matters.

    January 29, 2008 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  22. The Issues

    Of course it is no big deal when Obama does something but when Hillary breathes the news station jump all over her! It is clear there is a double-standard and as a Black man I am ever more excited and more of a BIGGER supporter of Clinton. We (men) have had our chance to make things right. I believe it is high time to turn the page and turn the job over to the best candidate and only person who I think will bring real contribution and that person just happens to be a woman, the only viable woman to run for President ! We are with you all the way Sen. Clinton !

    This picture says a lot about Obama and what he intends to do if (by a long shot) he wins. His grand speeches about being a uniter is garbage and this "brotha" is not buying it! Sorry. As an educated and professional young man (in 20s) I like to exercise critical thinking and utilize logic and reason and so that's why I am with Sen. Clinton all the way.

    January 29, 2008 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  23. John

    I understand how some might blame CNN for posting this- but it does mean something.

    One year ago, the day Barack Obama announced his campaign, he walked by Mrs. Clinton on the Senate floor and tried to say "Hi." She just offered him a cool stare and kept walking.

    This is very telling of Mrs. Clinton's personality, and it may not be the kind of personality that Americans want as their leader.

    January 29, 2008 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  24. Danielle

    That's great Barack. What kind of President do you think you're going to be if you can't even LOOK at people you don't like? COME ON! If it was Hillary looking away (which she wouldn't) this would be a different story. It would be "Hillary snubs Obama supporters" or something. Come on, I am in shock over the blatant media bias towards Obama in this election. Play fair for a change!

    January 29, 2008 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  25. BD, Tenn

    This is a non-issue. Obama doesn't like Clinton right now, that's understandable after the racial tactics of the Clintons.

    January 29, 2008 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
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