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. Shannon Shiflett

    cnn is better than this gossip column/tabloid journalism, or is it?

    January 29, 2008 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  2. GLENDA Hudson ,Fl

    OBAMA IS A SULKING BABY!!!
    HOW WILL HE BE A UNITER WHEN HE CAN'T EVEN BE PLEASENT TO HIS RIVEL?????? HE IS ANOTHER GEORGE BUSH- ALL TALK.

    THIS IS AN OUTRIGHT SNUB!!!

    The Media has made him the 'golden boy' but the Republicans are just
    bitting at the bit to attack him – how will he take it?

    The Republicans have very few Black voters and don't care if they
    lose that vote- so RACE will not affect them.

    GO HILLARY!

    January 29, 2008 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  3. GROW UP OBUMMER!

    What a jerk. I just don't see what people see in him! He's cocky, arrogant, and full of hot air.

    Hillary '08

    January 29, 2008 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  4. C

    Obama thinks he's a know-it-all and thinks he's better than the Clintons. News flash - you're just another fake politican that thinks your Harvard pedigree makes you better than the rest.

    Man, if he gets elected, the nation is definately doomed. 8 years of a bad Republican president, + at a minimum 4 more years of a terrible Dem president (with Obama , definately)

    January 29, 2008 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  5. Derek

    Oh come on, can't you see what this is you guys? It's just another attempt by a CNN correspondant to smear Obama and make him look unpresidential and undiplomatic. It's biased reporting at its finest.

    In a nutshell: Jessica Yellin is trying to start a fight that isn't there. Obama has already complimented Hillary in his South Carolina victory speech and expressed that he thinks all candidates he's running against are great people.

    Let's not forget that Hillary's husband has compared Obama to Jesse Jackson which could be construed as a racial remark, and also has done nothing but wage false attacks against Obama for the past two weeks. In a recent article here, it was even revealed that close friends of the Clinton campaign believe Bill has gone too far and needs to "stop".

    Now who's the real undiplomatic person? Instead of supporting his wife's fellow candidates, Bill Clinton is going after someone in his very own party. Obama has attempted to run a fair campaign from the start, and once Hillary started dropping in the polls, the attacks from the Clinton campaign got worse, and finally Obama had to start defending himself in public because the FALSE allegations were getting so out of hand.

    Shouldn't the Clinton camp be saving this energy for a Republican Candidate instead of a fellow Democrat? The fact they're going after Obama just proves they are desperate and are in fear of no longer being the Democratic frontrunner.

    This childish mudslinging from the Clinton Campaign (and the media) needs to stop. Obama is the honest candidate in all of this.

    January 29, 2008 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  6. Cheerio

    This is an absolutely ridiculous story. It's essentially 7 paragraphs of speculation about a photograph that depicts a split second it time. Who's to say Obama wasn't just letting them have a moment? As someone else mentioned... no one knows what happened before or after this photo was taken. And beyond that, who cares? If someone photographed every moment of your life, there would probably be a couple times when things appeared differently than they actually were. How bout a story about how these two senators responded to the state of the union? Wouldn't that be more interesting and useful?

    January 29, 2008 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  7. John, N.H

    no big deal

    January 29, 2008 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  8. Shane

    I thought Obama was the one who was going to change the negative tone of politics? This is just childish. Hillary Clinton may not always be the sweetest grape on the vine, but she's a lady and she also knows how to get things done.

    January 29, 2008 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  9. BO

    What a great example of how Barack Obama will reach out and unite people together. The audacity of hope at work. Apparently turning the page to a new chapter is a rhetorical euphemism for turning your back to look at the wall.

    Hillary '08

    January 29, 2008 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  10. Bitter Obama

    Obama is an angry man. He looks bitter inside. The picture certainly makes him look unpresidential. On a funny note, Obama actually looks like a bodyguard to the big boy – Ted.

    CNN, you can portray a different image of Obama but pictures don't lie. He certainly does not look and act like the next president of the United States.

    Actions speak louder than words. Change is good but what kind of change. Obama is not JFK

    I know CNN will not post this comment

    January 29, 2008 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  11. Rob, Minneapolis, MN

    How many of you lambasting Obama right now would be up in arms and proclaiming how fraudulent he is if he had smiled and chit-chatted with Hillary?

    While I feel that this is (or should be) a complete nonissue, in a way I'm impressed with Obama. He has responded in kind to what the Clinton campaign has thrown at him, both in compliments and in jabs. What he doesn't do is escalate - he lets Hillary and Bill bluster and bloviate.

    In my opinion, Hillary looks more and more duplicitous by the day. Campaign in Florida after the South Carolina slap in the face...when she was universally acknowledged as the front-runner, she had no problems with the punishments the DNC doled out to Michigan and Florida (though she hedged her MI bets quite well). Stand up for the rights of Nevada voters to have fair and equal access to the polls...after the Culinary Workers' Union and their ephemeral "advantage" shifts away from her. Call for a peaceful and mutually respectful campaign...after allowing her husband and her surrogates to attempt to drag Obama through the mud.

    I'll grant Hillary this much - she has done a masterful job of goading Obama. His responses to the actions of her *campaign* appear excessive because she manages to remove those actions from her person. It's a skill that she has cultivated for years. However, I am truly impressed with the ability of so many voters thus far who have seen through her actions and focused on the issues at hand. I only hope that enough people do so next week.

    January 29, 2008 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  12. MJC

    This is Obama the uniter?

    CNN also reported that Obama looked over Hillary's way to see which points she stood up to clap for.

    Lame.

    January 29, 2008 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  13. Kathy

    Stop whining this was taken out of context. There are pictures before and after. The photographers watched it happen. You just don't like facts.

    For the MORONS.... just because CNN didn't cover Clinton congratulating Obama doesn't mean it didn't happen. The networks knew exactly when she was to speak and chose to cut her off. Her congratulations were shown live on C-Span. Then, again, Obamabots don't like facts. Bill congratulated him too. So he got two sets of congratulations. Get over yourselves.

    I criticized CNN so I'm guessing I'm going to moderation.

    January 29, 2008 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  14. James L

    So. ... I guess if Obama is the president he will turn his back on all those who disagree with him as well. .. He could have really learned something from watching Hillary be civil with the very people who did not endorse her. ... it called being Presidential. ... and Obama actions were far from it. ...

    January 29, 2008 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  15. mike

    Yes, this is the kind of president I want – someone who can't even be civil to someone in his own party. How will it be when the Republicans really go at him if he becomes a nominee? Intelligence and eloquence will only take you so far. A think skin won't. Obama – grow up and mature a little – then you can become president.

    January 29, 2008 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  16. Alex Smith

    I think this is a story, no speeches, no main stream media groups following, a picture says a 1000 words. You don't turn your back, atleast pretend, isn't that what politices is pretend, yes it is. You are seeing a side of Obama, what if someone makes him mad , is he just going to turn his back to them? Grow up, be a man, stop whinning,

    January 29, 2008 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  17. mike

    Yes, this is the kind of president I want – someone who can't even be civil to someone in his own party. How will it be when the Republicans really go at him if he becomes a nominee? Intelligence and eloquence will only take you so far. A thin skin won't. Obama – grow up and mature a little – then you can become president.

    January 29, 2008 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  18. Georgia

    Could y'all report on issues instead of the sandbox stuff?

    January 29, 2008 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  19. Go, Hillary!

    What I found REALLY disgusting is the way Obama fawned all over Ted Kennedy sitting next to him during the State of the Union address! This guy is a "player." Hillary Clinton is the real thing - an experienced, smart, powerful woman ready to lead our country out of the abyss created by George W. Bush!

    January 29, 2008 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  20. Sis O, IA

    This is like high school gossip. Who cares? Hillary is so transparent.

    January 29, 2008 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  21. Joyce

    And this is the guy that you want for President???He is acting like my 3yr old son. He is really showing his true colors..."whine, whine, whine..I don't wanna shake YOUR hand..whine,whine, whine". What if she did that to him? You would see and hear all types of anti-Hillary stuff over the newswaves!!! OBAMA GROW UP!!!!!
    Hillary '08

    January 29, 2008 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  22. Aletha

    It appears he is doing something else. CNN do better work and stop looking for the petty stuff.

    January 29, 2008 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  23. BABucher, NYC

    Can you blame him, given the past several weeks of negative campaigning from the Clintons? I'd be pretty sore too.

    January 29, 2008 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  24. Erika

    Hillary came right over to where Obama was and didn't speak to him. I don't think he should have spoken to her either.

    January 29, 2008 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  25. Abe, Seattle

    Give Obama a break. The poor guy is preoccupied with how his twenty-year relationship with the just arrested Rezko is going to destroy his chances of ever being President. That kind of fear tends to bring out the worst in people.

    You might say that he was a bit obsessed with how he can translate his "new kind of politics" into answers to these questions:

    How did Barack manage to purchase a home for 300K under asking?
    Why did Rezko purchase the lot next to his new home the next day?
    What did Barack pay Rezko for a 1/3 of the Rezko lot for the expansion of his home? Why did Obama accept 85K (it has grown to 140K now) in contributions from an "influence peddler" who the Chicago papers and DA were investigating?
    How much legal work did Obama really do in defending Rezko.
    Are we going to have a RezkoGate with Obama?
    Barack just admitted to having a 20 year, close friendship with a guy who had been committing Federal Crimes the entire time.
    Why is Barack the “unnamed politician” in the Federal Indictment?

    January 29, 2008 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
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