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. Fair Lady

    Hillary has always been strong and he missed a chance of showing he is just as strong. The Kennedy era is over, and Ted Kennedy's endorsment doesn't mean much to me.

    January 29, 2008 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  2. Alekander

    Neither one of them appeared to be cordial to one another. People seem to think pictures never lie; however, a good photographer can make a picture express whatever point of view they want.

    January 29, 2008 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  3. Brian

    Put yourself in Obama's position there. I'm not gonne butt into my opponents conversations!

    Hillary sucks

    January 29, 2008 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  4. ramno

    Hillary was gracious in shooking her hands with the Titan of party even when he was against her. Simply said, Obama showed his true nature..

    January 29, 2008 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  5. Sheri

    Yes, this story is a little TMZ-esque. However, you know if the tables were turned the media would be all over Hillary for this one. The media is bulldozing her. I thought journalists were supposed to be impartial?

    January 29, 2008 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  6. MikeinVA

    Makes them both look silly, doesn't it? Go McCain!

    January 29, 2008 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  7. EF

    Geez... seriously? And anyone who reads into this, including the author...is just as pathetic.

    January 29, 2008 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  8. Allison, NH

    Hillary Supporters – Get over yourselves. Do you honestly believe that this one small moment in time captures the essence of what Obama is about? Its amazing how all of you have come out in droves to prejudge him on something that lasted mere seconds.

    ZAC is right – this photo means nothing at all.

    January 29, 2008 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  9. Woz - Los Gatos, CA

    I couldn't stand to be in the same room as Hillary Clinton, so how can you blame Obama for turning away from her?

    January 29, 2008 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  10. pam,s.c.

    obama needs time to get over the hurt and pain the clintons inflicted on him and the voters of s.c. . as a s.c. voter i need time time to get over it. he is a good person and in time he will forgive her unlike the voters of s.c.

    January 29, 2008 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  11. carol

    i started out leaning towards obama but as the campaign goes on, i am feeling strongly that clinton is the best candidate. obama talks a good game – but this childish rudeness is just not appropriate for the leader of a country. is he going to treat heads of state he doesn't agree with the same way? he keeps dumoping on mr. clinton, who dealt with both the economy and international affairs very well. he handled the balkans way better than bush handled the middle east, and i would be perfectly happy to have him backstop the next president, not shunted aside. i am also concerned that obama's supporters are too liberal, the old kind of tax and spend liberals that we voted out, and also that maybe they are supporting him becuase they think he would be easier to manipulate. clinton is much more moderate, much smarter and better prepared.

    January 29, 2008 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  12. Sarah-Jane

    JUST SHUT UP, CNN. THIS IS AMATEURISH JOURNALISM.

    WHY DON'T YOU ASK CLINTON AND OBAMA FOR COMMENT BEFORE REPORTING THIS GARBAGE?

    IT'S CLEAR THAT CLINTON HAD A BAD DAY BECAUSE SHE LOST THE ENDORSEMENT OF CAT, WHILE OBAMA GOT TEDDY AND CAROLINE. BUT I DON'T THINK SHE INTENDED TO ENGAGE IN A COLD WAR WITH OBAMA .

    LET'S END THE FIGHTING.

    OBAMA-CLINTON '08.

    January 29, 2008 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  13. ssalvia

    It may come as a surprise to both sides, but both Reagan and Kennedy are dead. Our world has drastically changed and if either agenda were alive to be invoked today, it would not work.

    So why are we trying to live in the past? We have had nearly eight years of on-the-job-training that did not work either. Stop the madness. Obama is not ready to lead. Listen, Listen, Listen when he speaks and you will hear theories but no pratical application. I don't care who endorses him-they can't do his job.

    We tossed out two experienced candidates Biden and Dodd. Clinton is our best option. She certainly knows how to handle rejection, contempt, hostility, and unpopularity. She is tested and ready for this awful mess Bush has left.

    January 29, 2008 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  14. Norman

    There is not a lot of civility in politics. Hopefully, but I seriously doubt the voters will elect the person who will be the best qualified to be the President of the United States.

    Just look at the elections of 2000 & 2004.

    Norman, Maryland

    January 29, 2008 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  15. Joe

    ZAC,
    You are absolutely right. Trust me, all the spin musters understand it and a few of the Clintonians too. Others, I am afraid, are expressing a rear level of ignorance only consistent with false peddlers.

    January 29, 2008 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  16. BO former fan

    Obama was deliberately rude. For someone who pretends to aim for civility, he certainly does not do what he says. He is a hypocrite and phony of the first order - an old style pro, hanging off old style pros and pretending to be different.

    January 29, 2008 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  17. Randal, Birmingham, AL

    Why doesn't CNN ever post my comments!!!!.....what do you fear, CNN? People who have posted after me have their comments in here, but not mine...I have seen this happenning time and again...ridiculous

    January 29, 2008 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  18. Kevin PA

    Please CNN, get a grip. How about an honest to goodness Bio on all the (remaining) candidates. Wouldn't it be nice to hear from real people in each of the candidates' past talk about the kind of people they REALLY are? Why does every journalist and talking head have such a devoted (and sick) interest in this type of nonsensical hooplah?? Please, just give us the meat and potatoes, leave the fluff and trash for those who have nothing real to offer.

    January 29, 2008 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  19. Flora Bofill

    Obama is getting to be an expert in turning his back!!!!. It's the same thing he did when he should have been saluting the American Flag at a rally.
    It is not surprising, this just proves he is not the best choice for our next president.

    January 29, 2008 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  20. Anita

    The whole Media is after Clintons .MSNBC Keith ,Chirs Joe ,CNN ,NBC 10 .You Guys are picking the candidte for us .it will back fire .everybody is saying that on the streets. dont forget viewer are not stupid ,we got fooled once by you guys when we bought the Iraq war which you all also sold to us now you are trying to make this a Hillery's war.you know your HATE for Clintons is ozzing out of our TV sets .So carry on this is good for her because people are not liking it what you are doing to that poor woman.they will come to back her up like they did in NY .

    January 29, 2008 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  21. Susan

    Obama has shown lack of maturity by looking away, when Senator Clinton came to his area and greeted everyone. She, of course, mean to greet her opponent as a responsible and mature person. Who will unite people more? The senator who turn his head away or the senator who tried to make a truce? Who you want to be our next President?

    January 29, 2008 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  22. Linda, NY

    This incident points to just how thin-skinned Obama really is and if he gets the nomination the Republicans will eat him alive. I wouldn't be surprised if there were lots of Republican money behind his campaign because Obama is going to be really easy to beat in November.

    January 29, 2008 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  23. Karl Charleston SC

    To the Hillary supporters, you are truly grasping at straws, you r starting to look really pathetic.

    As a citizen of SC I want to know why Hillary left my state right as the polls closed and did not have the decency to stay and give a concession speech. A lot of folks that I know that support her volunteered their time and worked hard for her here in SC. And they are PISSED that she left! She was like screw this I am out of here!

    So is this the type of so called leader she is going to be????? When the going gets tough she leaves????

    January 29, 2008 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  24. carmella

    Attending a 2003 AFL-CIO forum, the then-state senator took issue with the prescription drug bill Congress was putting together, which Kennedy was helping to negotiate.

    "We gotta call not just Republicans," Obama said. "We gotta call up Ted Kennedy, and say, 'Ted, you're getting a little old now, and maybe, you been a fighter for us before. I don't know what's happening right now, Ted, get some spine. Stand up to the Republicans."

    January 29, 2008 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  25. KZ

    As an undecided voter very much looking forward to exercising my right to vote on Feb 5th, I watched disappointed at the display by Barack Obama at the State of the Union. How am I supposed to believe Barack Obama will be a unifying force in Washington and be able to push through bi-partisan supported legislation to actually enact change successfully, if he can't even be cordial to someone competing against him within his own party? As for Ted Kennedy, a former presidential hopeful himself who wasn't able to secure the party's nomination, I'm not sure how much his endorsement should mean. He also supported Kerry and we see where that got us. Let's also remember he was also a supporter of the failed No Child Left Behind...his judgement should probably be looked at a little closer if we want to win a national election against the Republicans.

    January 29, 2008 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
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