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. Stamford

    Dear CNN,

    This is not news. Please hire real journalists to report what is going on in our country and the world.

    January 29, 2008 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  2. betagreg

    I agree, this is manufactured conflict. What would have happened if McCain had attended, would Clinton or Obama be expected to greet him as well? This discussion ranks with Oscar night wardrobe selection - lets raise the discourse above this type of sensationalism, last check one of these folks will be the President next year.

    January 29, 2008 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  3. T.C.

    Obama is in no position to run this country. You're all being fooled by a charming personality and fast talking... UGH! American can be so easily swayed by the wrong thing. No surprise.

    January 29, 2008 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  4. Ryan

    This photo makes Obama look extremely young and immature. But it also brings out Obama's true character, he's had moments like this on the campaign trail that very few people seem to be catching on to. He's not a nice guy, does that matter to his supporters,I doubt it. But I wish he would stop pretending to be the nice guy, he's a true politician, and I think it's rather funny how he followed Teddy Kennedy like a shadow last night. I'm surprised by the fact that Hillary Clinton reached out to Kennedy, it was a gracious move by her,and it shows me the content of her character.

    Good move Hillary!

    January 29, 2008 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  5. Suz D

    Instaed of making the Presidential race about popularity, why doesn't the Media present articles and lists on all of those running for President and what their VIEWS are on the issues?! I would much prefer looking at Hillary Clinton's stance on issue lined up side by side to John McCain's or Barack Obamas' than hear that people don't recognize each other at an event...

    January 29, 2008 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  6. Stacy Clarks, Texas

    how does this change my life in any way?!?!?!

    OBAMA 08!!!

    January 29, 2008 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  7. tt42103

    To purposely turn away to avoid greeting someone. That's the kind of behavior you would expect from girls at a high school prom.

    January 29, 2008 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  8. Nelson, Colorado Springs Co

    Well it hard to shake a person hand with your back to them. this nothing to talk about. I couldn't see if there were any face to face recognition on this picture so what the big deal. stay on this issue. Time for a change get out and vote

    January 29, 2008 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  9. Matt

    What's with Obama trumpeting his "status quo" support from Kerry and Kennedy?

    You can be sure that if Hillary received these endorsements he would be slamming it as "status quo" proof.

    January 29, 2008 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  10. MLD

    And then I heard.....that Obama wouldn't sit by Hillary on the school bus...because Hillary wouldn't share her crayons with him.

    C'mon Jessica and CNN...is this what we've resorted to..? With EVERYTHING else happening in the world it has come down to 'he said, she said...he didn't say, she didn't say'.

    Choose the higher road, CNN.

    January 29, 2008 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  11. 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 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  12. John

    Actually, this is important to report. Hillary shows she is able to put partisanship aside and acknowledge her colleagues in a civil, polite manner. Obama can't even bother to look at her, let alone shake her hand. He is not President material. That is news, worthy to be repeated over and over in the coming days.

    January 29, 2008 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  13. Jimbo -New Hampshire

    Whatever with the much ado about nothing statements, but in the end, everyone should be polite at the Union address, and it once again showed us here in the Northeast why OBAMA will not and cannot abide by the polite rules. We may have come and gone up here from the political scene, but the bottom line is, being cordial is better than being a snob. Will he treat congress this way if elected? The American people? The voters will let him know shortly.

    January 29, 2008 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  14. Suzy Flowers, Ligonier, PA

    This awkness is not appropiate for Sen. Obama! This very awkness shows he is not ready to be the President of the United States – he is too green. Sen. Clinton embrace the awkness and showed respect to Sen. Kennedy as well to herself and her endeavers. She avoided nothing!!!

    January 29, 2008 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  15. Isaac

    Why is Obama taking the blame from most of you guys here? Seems to me that she was just as much to blame for snubbing him as he was for snubbing her. It kind of works both ways, doesn't it?

    January 29, 2008 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  16. D-Man

    Barack you need to take responsibility. If I were a Barack supporter, I would clearly look at this and say, is this the man that talks about change and hope and working together, when you can't even look at your oponent and exchange pleasantries?

    Does Obama thinks that this Presidency belongs to him? THE AUDACITY OF HUSSEIN

    January 29, 2008 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  17. Jane Jones

    CLINTON REACHED OVER OBAMA TO SPEAK TO SOME ONE ELSE..IT IS RUDE TO REACH ACROSS SOMEONE WITHOUT SAYING EXCUSE ME OR ACKNOWLEGING THE PERSON OVER WHOM YOU ARE REACHING.CLINTON WAS THE ONE APPROACHING AND THERE FORE SHOULD SPEAK FIRST ESPESCIALLY SINCE HE WAS THE CLOSER OF THE TWO MEN.IT IS OBVIOUS WHAT SHE WAS TRYING TO DO.I WOULDN,T SPEAK TO HER EITHER.

    January 29, 2008 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  18. E in WI

    He can talk to here at the dabate. Bitterness Hill fans?

    January 29, 2008 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  19. amy

    Lucky Obama didn't look into the eyes of the beast, she could take your soul.

    January 29, 2008 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  20. christine

    Senator Clinton has put up with ribald jokes, attacks on her credibility, and a boiler room approach to the issues that this country faces. Her desire to be president is no more self serving or power grabbing than other nominees. I am tired of hearing, because her husband dares to give her what she gave him (loyalty), he is tainting his legacy and that because she accepts his help that somehow she is weak. Senator Clinton has put forth real solutions to the country's problems, knows the nuances of her solutions and she gives details. When most would have given in, she stands to fight for us again and again. That, to me, is inspiration.

    If this woman is not qualified, then, no woman ever will be. She is known and respected all over the world. She has to be twice as good as all the other candidates and she is.

    This will not be on front pages of the daily newspapers across the country. But, I am endorsing Senator Hillary Clinton.

    January 29, 2008 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  21. Texan for Obama

    What a princess HIllary is. Why did she reach across seated people to speak to someone anyway? That was pretty rude, especially since Langvin is in a wheelchair and you know she saw Obama seated by Kennedy.

    She should have walked down to greet Langvin and acknowledged Obama along with Kennedy. If someone would choose not to acknowledge me and speak to everyone around me, well I kinda think I would turn away myself. Not to be rude but it would be painfully obvious I was iontentionally excluded from the platitudes.

    I don't think Obama was being rude...Hillary was. It was only an awkward moment because she choose to make it one. But I can see it now...Obama ignores Hillary. Oh what an evil web we weave Hillary.

    January 29, 2008 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  22. Independent Voter

    Fair Lady- I couldn't agree with you more! Obama talks about 'old' and 'new' but yet he's sucking up to Ted Kennedy?? What a joke! If Ted Kennedy is such a 'star', why didn't he win the presidency? He also endorsed John Kerry and we all know what happened there. Ted Kennedy's endorsment means nothing to the average American. The ones that it does mean something to are the people who can't think for themselves and need the media to decide who they should vote for. Hillary Clinton can still win the nomination. If she doesn't, it will be so much fun watching Obama squirm once the Republican's get a hold of him. He will never win the general election. Hopefully more people realize this before February 5th.

    January 29, 2008 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  23. Suz D

    And one more thing...what DOES Obama mean when he says "change"?! I am a Democrat and have NO idea where he stands on things vs. Hillary Clinton who I know stands for things like Healthcare & Education...

    January 29, 2008 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  24. Bryce

    @ an agnostic democrat

    Wow! You are just wrong.

    What do you think Teddy boy represents? The NEW school???? Ha Ha Ha

    January 29, 2008 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  25. mother

    Hillary is a lady. Obama needs to grow up.

    January 29, 2008 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
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