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. A. Harrison

    OH BOY! OBAMA knows how to reach across and BRING The COUNTRY TOGETHER ALRIGHT!

    Obamalites.....you can't have your cake and eat it too.

    January 29, 2008 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  2. Ann

    I tired of Obama making excuses, he has a million of them.
    Excuses for not pledging allegiance to the flag, excuses for
    how he voted on Iraq, excuses for snubbing Clinton.....you
    know what? I hadn't decided who to vote for, but now I have..
    Because no matter how you feel Obama, Hillary is still a
    human being and you could have acknowledged her as one
    human being to another... if you
    show such petty displays now...what will you show when or
    if you ever became President.
    You are the least Presidental candidate I have ever seen, and
    shame on you Senator Kennedy for endorsing someone that
    has to make an excuse why he doesn't feel like "pledging
    allegiance to the flag"...

    January 29, 2008 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  3. Molly

    This is the TRASH that turns me off to CNN and MSNBC! You took a persons word for something that could have been an innocent move. Did you ask Obama, did you ask Clinton? I was watching when (after talking with Obama – and you could have asked), you said, "Oh, here's something! So and so said that Obama snubbed Clinton". So the word is out even though you offered a thinly veiled attempt to say you weren't sure it is correct but it looks bad and now the public is being polorized by a photo that could very well have been distorted. Why in heaven's name would you call yourselves reporters and do such a thing. Where's the "checking of the facts" before airing. You should be ashamed! This attempt at ratings and self promotion is making news watching painful. I think I will give up both media outlets.

    January 29, 2008 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  4. 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 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  5. Cheerio

    You want to make a big deal out of this? Then perhaps the following should be addressed...

    The New York Times
    August 7, 2007

    The relationship began to change when Mr. Obama began musing aloud about a presidential bid. The day he opened his exploratory committee, several Senate observers said, he extended his hand and said hello on the Senate floor. She breezed by him, offering a cool stare... Many Senate observers, even those close to Mrs. Clinton, say they believe she set the less-than-collegial tone.

    January 29, 2008 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  6. Drama

    All this picture tells me is that Obama does not have eyes in the back of his head.

    January 29, 2008 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  7. Larry, WI

    pam...are you serious? Presidents don't have time to cocoon, and "get over the hurt and pain". The guy isn't running for head of the neighborhood book club...he's running for President. If he can't handle ole washed up Bill, he's not ready for the big stage.

    January 29, 2008 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  8. ELISE

    Thank you CNN for showing how unprepared Obama is for office. How immature! Be a man, show us what a real gentelmen really is. Show us your so called "CHANGE" that america needs, because Bush is'nt even that rude.

    January 29, 2008 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  9. Duane

    As trivial as this really is, it becomes one of those moments that makes you pause for a moment and think, the same way the Hillary tears did in New Hampshire. These are surely distractions from the issues, but when you see it (as we no doubt will for the next week on CNN), it shows even a slight conflict between the character portrayed in the stump speeches and the character in action. The truth is Obama has run a campaign that is very heavy on character, the need for hope, the need for change, but with very little by way of specifics that would answer a fundamental question "Change to WHAT?" If part of his character is turning around and pretending not to notice Hillary standing right there (I mean come on, that suit is such bright red it burns the retnas out, you can't ignore that!), then his character is questionable, even minutely.

    January 29, 2008 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  10. Erik

    So, Mrs. Clinton abruptly cancels all her cable TV interviews last night. What, she wouldn't offer an opinion about the State of the Union simply because she couldn't stomach having to answer questions about Senator Kennedy's endorsement? I suppose if she's President and loses a Congressional vote, we can expect not to hear from her for a few days? Lame.

    January 29, 2008 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  11. Amy in Iowa

    This Hillary campaign is a cover for a third term for Bill. He tried to change the constitution to allow himself a third term. No more Clintons.

    January 29, 2008 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  12. Kandi

    Oh please. This is so NOT important. What a bunch of babies to look at this picture (a nanosecond in time) and make such a big deal out of it.

    January 29, 2008 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  13. Independent Voter

    pam, s.c. – I had to comment on your comment. If Obama needs time to 'get over the hurt', then he doesn't belong in politics! 'The hurt' is part of running for elected office!

    January 29, 2008 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  14. joe

    when Obama standed by Kennedy, the oldest senator , and said that "the oldest man support me , I want change ".

    I cannot help ask "Obama , are you serious when you talk about change?"

    and think about Obama voted 129 times for "present" in Illinois. how can I believe his word?

    January 29, 2008 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  15. Sue

    Hillary only ACTS nice when the cameras are on her. Her phoney, friendly handshake with Ted Kennedy makes me sick when you hear how furious she is about not getting Ted's endorsement. I think Obama showed great restraint by not rubbing it in her face.

    January 29, 2008 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  16. Aaron

    As usual... CNN comes to the defense of Obama, while at the same time airing clip after clip of Bill Clinton making a "nasty" comment about Obama! It's goes two ways CNN.. or rather it should! Obama is not a grown up, he's not a leader, if he wins the nomination I'll be voting Republican for the first time in 14 years... I just hope the rest of the South gets their heads out and doesn't muck things up like they did in S. Carolina.

    January 29, 2008 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  17. Judy Penn

    Horray for Hillary! Obama by turning his back on her will never get my vote even if he wins the nomination. I just wish the press would treat him like everyone else!! What are you people afraid of?? You think you all have the answers and try to influence voters... Do your job and report the news equally.. Stop making predictions.

    January 29, 2008 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  18. Michael

    Don't know if you're reading too much into it, but Kennedy's endorsement means the death of Clinton style politics, that is malevolence and duplicity. And criminality.

    January 29, 2008 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  19. Casey

    Speaking of playing fair, The LA Times printed a glowing letter by the (3) three Kennedys endoring Clinton. I wonder if this endorsement will be all plastered all over the news followed by headlines:" What does this mean for Obama?" I would venture to say, "probably not."

    January 29, 2008 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  20. jutenine bremen,ga

    obama is a real looser makes me sick, just like the kennedys and john kerry,makes me sick @ my stomach to look at or listen to any three of those sexist men. id rather have a republican any day over these three goofballs its hillary or vote republican doesnt matter which one

    January 29, 2008 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  21. Daisy

    What I find more interesting is how Obama and Kennedy looked during the State of the union, I thought he was going for change and not to turn the page of the old politics etc etc. Ted Kennedy is as old as it gets Hypocrisy at its finist!!!

    January 29, 2008 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  22. Austin

    Is this how Obama reacts when he feels pressure?

    Presidential?

    I think NOT!!!

    January 29, 2008 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  23. Ashley

    Gossip column at its best!

    OH, WELL......yellin!

    January 29, 2008 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  24. Jackson

    Obama thinks that he has arrived and is therefore untouchable. He relies on his supporters and the media to defend him from attacks and to make him look good. His attitude during the State of the Union Address makes him look smug and cocky. I think that if he wins, he will only have a lackluster term, accomplishing nothing because he won't do anything that is unpopular and will rely on what others (e.g., the elderly democrats) will tell him to do.

    I am a brother, and I do want an African-American as President. But if this is the only choice presented to me, I will have to reconsider and use my vote to count for a better option.

    January 29, 2008 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  25. free thinking

    why have all the other after me been posted and mine is still awaiting moderation. is it because i support hilary and spoke the truth and this site is trying to cover it up i copy and paste the whole site including what all the others stated and will post all over internet for all to see how unfair this site is about posting comments.

    January 29, 2008 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
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