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. Gail, San Diego, California

    Obama is being a leader, Hillary is being a follower

    From the State of the Union:

    When Bush warned the Iranian government that “America will confront those who threaten our troops, we will stand by our allies, and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf” Obama jumped up to applaud. Clinton leaned across Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), seated to her left, to look in Obama’s direction before slowly standing.

    January 29, 2008 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  2. Amy in Iowa

    Hillary is well known for turning her back to people when they approach her. Why not report that?

    January 29, 2008 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  3. Dekonti

    Alright Jessica, what's the point? Who cares!?! Is it because Bill said to you..."shame on you." Hillary Clinton is a very smart and tough woman, getting Barack to shake her hand was not a task like solving the healthcare problems of our nation. It all could have been..."Barack" to get his attention. To simply put, you guys in the press should just try to raise the journalistic bar because it has certainly been lowered to a very very very low standard. It is so unfortunate.

    January 29, 2008 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  4. Krista

    This is an important story. We are getting ready to elect a new President that will change the direction of this country and rebuild relationships across this world that was destroyed by the current administration. To build those relationships, we need a President that can extend their hand, even in the toughest times, to move this country forward. Obama is campaigning as the candidate of “real change" and he will bring everyone together, despite race, gender, etc. How can he bring this "change" if he can't even look at a political opponent within his own party? Obama actions have definitely demonstrated that he can "talk the talk", but not “walk the walk". Isn't this the "status quo" of the current Washington and the failed politics? It’s apparent that Hilary can "walk the walk".

    January 29, 2008 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  5. Ryan, New Jersey

    You have got to be kidding me. This isn't a story. It's a hundredth of a second as captured by a photographer. It's a step or two away from hearsay. CNN, why not a piece about who stood and clapped and when during the speech? That we would at least have video on.

    January 29, 2008 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  6. GO MRS CLINTON!!

    LOST ALL RESPECT FOR KENNEDYS!! THEY ARE SUCH HIPOCRATS...

    ENDORSEMENT MEANS NOTHING..

    THIS PIC ALSO MEANS NOTHING!! CNN PLS STOP TRYING TO PICK FIGHTS BTWN CANDIDATES.. REPORT ON IMPORTANT ISSUES..
    NO ONE CARES WHETHER THEY SHOOK HANDS OR NOT! LEAVE THAT STORY FOR THE TRASH TABLOIDS LIKE ENQUIRER!!

    SOLDIER IN IRAQ..
    PS. WE ARE ALL DISGUSTED WITH THIS OBAMA GUY.. HE CANNOT WIN.. HE IS NOT READY!! SEND HIM BACK TO CHICAGO.. HIS TIME WILL COME BUT NOT KNOW.. THIS IS NOT ON THE JOB TRAINING...

    VOTE HILLARY 08!!!

    GOOO HILLARY CLINTON!!!!! HILLARY 08..........HILLARY 08.............

    January 29, 2008 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  7. Dr. Phil

    As I like to say on my show.... "How's that working for you" Obama? I'm referring to the hype surrounding you about being a uniter and reaching out to all Americans. As some like to say.... start at home. Try reaching out to those in your own party.

    I think Mitt Romney is looking better and better.

    January 29, 2008 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  8. carmella

    How times have changed. In 2003 at a AFL-CIO forum Barak Obama took issue with the prescription drug bill Congress was putting together and said that Ted Kennedy was getting old and needed to get some spine.

    January 29, 2008 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  9. Johnny

    Every Hillary Clinton move is calculated. She came there to create a picture that would upstage the events of the day. Do you for a moment think that smile on her face was real? She wanted to be pictured looking down to Barack as royalty communicating with a subject. I'M GLAD HE LOOKED AWAY.

    January 29, 2008 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  10. pieter

    i think Hillary i getting the blame for everything!!!she was doing what a senate suppose to do....if you want to become the president you surely need to have manners....and I didn't saw that on Obama....
    Hillary for president!!!!!!!!

    January 29, 2008 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  11. Karl Charleston SC

    To all of you blind sheep Clinton supporters if you had watched the State of the Union last night this occurred right as Bush was walking in the door and he turned to look at the President.

    Clintonites will SPIN anything! LOL!

    January 29, 2008 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  12. mary, colorado

    The media goes beyond common sense and reads too much into an unimportant picture showing an unimportant moment in time.

    January 29, 2008 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  13. Dekonti

    Honestly Jessica, CNN is really becoming CLINTON NEWS NETWORK..."shame on you" Bill said to you.

    January 29, 2008 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  14. Beth

    It means NOTHING. The media wants to put a spin on everything. Leave it alone.

    January 29, 2008 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  15. Ant N Texas

    Please, Kennedy just spent the day slapping BILLARY around like a rag doll, so Obama wants to give her a moment to speak to Kennedy. Big Deal!!! To BILLARY supporter who say Obama is a baby and is this the way he will treat other leaders? How stupid are you? What will BILLARY do? We all know, CRY!!!

    These real times require REAL LEADERSHIP from DAY 1 – Obama 08

    January 29, 2008 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  16. Surrealist, Fort Myers, FL

    Obama...is the new kid on the block in that circle he found himself in.

    It was better to allow Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton...exchange pleasantries–I don't think he intentionally snubbed her...just avoided a possible uncomfortable moment.

    Quite frankly...were I in his shoes I would have done a "hand-shake fake and sad gotcha!!" I wouldn't want any that she's got to rub off on me!

    January 29, 2008 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  17. michelle in Des Moines

    Hello are we voting for Pres or Miss Manners replacement? Stick to the issues, and facts which the Clinton's have not done. So he was rude, In my book race baiting and lying are a little more serious. Impeachable as Bill should know.

    January 29, 2008 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  18. nancy

    So...Obama is the kind of person we want our next president to be?/ I do not think so....Heis ignoring Hillary and sulking like a small child..in fact he looks like a little boy he has not gotten his way...do not think this is the image we want in our next president when he is communicating with other world leaders..Hillary was civil
    enough to go over to shake hands..Obama needs to grow up then consider
    a run for the white house..

    January 29, 2008 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  19. Tinez

    Give the woman a chance now !!!!she's nice and Obama is ...

    January 29, 2008 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  20. Ty-Smyrna, GA

    Did we all forget that these two are not just now seeing each other after several weeks or months like other faces in that room....these two folks they have been debating and greeting each other practically every week...plus they will GREET again this Thursday so give it a break.

    January 29, 2008 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  21. Jon C.

    Regarding Obama's defense on this topic: lame.

    Your response to the "awkwardness" of the day was not the mature one.

    Grow up.

    January 29, 2008 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  22. Trev

    I wonder what Obama supporters would be doing if Clinton said the same thing. He stiffer her. Get over it! It would not be a big deal to me at all, but Obama is running as the type of candidate who would not do that.

    January 29, 2008 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  23. Andrew

    Obama shows his true character here. He is immature. Anybody who has been in leadership knows that you can't take these fights personally. You've got to have more grace than that. Even Bush would have shook her hand. Grow up Obama. If you win the nomination, the Republicans will be much more brutal and they certainly won't feel sorry for you if you get your feelings hurt.

    Hillary proves once again that she has the maturity and grace to be President and to be the real uniter. If anyone doubts it, just look at her record of cosponsoring legislation and working across party lines in the Senate.

    January 29, 2008 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  24. A very sad man named Chevy

    1. This is just a moment captured in less than a second.
    2. We dont know what happened before or after the picture was taken.
    3. May be they shook hands before or after.
    4. Its clear Hillary is rying to reach someones hand beyond Obama. May be Obama is just giving way for her to reach.
    5. CNN. You can do better than that.

    YOU CLINTON LOVERS ARE SO QUICK TO ATTACK OBAMA!!! HOW DARE YOU! WHEN YOU HOLY HILLARY TRIED TO DESTROY OBAMA'S REPUTATION A WEEKS AGO U WERE SILENT, BUT NOW A SINGLE FRAME AT LARGE EVENT AND YOU JUMP TO ATTACK PRESIDENT OBAMA?! SHAME SHAME! I AM DISGUISTED. I NOW KNOW WHO IM AM VOTING FOR OBAMA. HILLARY DIDNT TRY TO GET TO HIM TO APOLIGIZE FOR HER HUSBANDS ATTACKS BUT TO COME INTO HIS SPACE HIS GRILL. SHE IS JUST SO CONFRONTATIONAL. SHE NEEDS TO STOP GIVING THE MEDIA A FIELD DAY. SHE WANTS THE POSITIVE ATTENTION PRESIDENT OBAMA IS GETTING, THATS WHY SHE IS TRYING TO BUDDY UP WITH TED KENNEDY.

    January 29, 2008 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  25. NC

    Why do people go crazy when Blacks support Blacks. What's the big deal? There are Blacks who support Clinton, Edwards, and the Republican party. It's about race, because you don't hear..."Wow, look at how those whites are voting for that White". Get over it! Quit using the excuse and grow up- race is what it is. Open your ears to what is real....the next 4 years...the jump start to a much needed change.

    January 29, 2008 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
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