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. TL, Phila, PA

    I'm so embarressed for both of them. How immature are our leaders???

    January 29, 2008 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  2. 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 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  3. Tad

    You guys need to report some real news and not some high-school "he snubbed/she snubbed" silliness. The future of our World is at stake, literally, and the media is concerned with whether or not Obama and Clinton shook hands...

    January 29, 2008 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  4. Rob in NC

    "If he can't handle ole washed up Bill, he's not ready for the big stage."

    Funny, she can't seem to handle him either.

    After the campaign she's run against him I think it takes an incredible amount of resolve to stay quiet and civil- she had an opportunity to say hello too, did she not? And after Obama’s change message caught on she became the candidate for change too (like everyone else)- what is she changing?

    If you don't have anything nice to say...

    January 29, 2008 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  5. Sherri

    The point that Obama supporters are missing is that if this "chosen one" who is supposed to "unite" one and all can't even take the higher ground, as Hillary has done to Sen. Kennedy, by greeting her in a civil manner, then how is he going to restore this divided nation of ours. It may be a moment in time, but, it is one where the "presidential" mask that Obama puts on when he's giving speeches is off and we are looking at him as he really is.

    January 29, 2008 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  6. Jon, Lantana

    Ok, well BOTH nominees are guilty of slandering the other. The Obama supporters seem to always throw a blind eye to the fact that he is just as guilty of mud-slinging as Hillary. That is politics and there is no avoiding that fact. Second off. Hillary made the move to go over there and shake hands and talk with the people all around him. Obama did all he could to make it known that he didnt want to have any talks or handshaking with HRC by turning his back and doing everything he could to let her know he wasnt interested in civility. Had he acted like anyone else there (Ted Kennedy, Langvin, McCaskill) she would have reached out and shook his hand too, but when you throw a wall up like that what do you expect.

    January 29, 2008 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  7. Brian

    Good job Obama.

    I agree, if you have nothing good or pleasant to say to Hilary, say nothing.

    Much better than a hypocritical handshake and a smile that everyone expects.

    Really, which would be hypocritical for Obama in this case – turning away or smiling and shaking hands with someone who's criticized you relentlessly and tried to take you down using anything possible?

    Poeple who prefer the latter are the same ones who say "well it's just politics, smile and shake is what you do" and who love politics as usual.

    January 29, 2008 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  8. L in florida

    Obama Supporters – If Hillary would of done this to Obama, you would be making it a BIG DEAL. This photo means ALOT. It is a big deal. By the way, Kennedy's endorsment is a kiss of death to Obama. Look what happen in 2004 when he endorsed Kerry, He lost.

    Hillary will win in Florida! You can't win the general election if you don't win Florida.
    .

    Hillary 08

    January 29, 2008 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  9. Gene

    I'm a big Obama support and I think he should have just pit his lip and shook her hand. Just can’t give any ammo to the opposition. In the next televised debate or if he should come in contact with her, he has to make a big show that he is being cordial. I’ve seen him do it at other debates and it just makes him look like the better person.

    January 29, 2008 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  10. John, Kansas City, MO

    If this exchange was awkward, what about all the lies and half-truths Bush spewed from the rostrum...that made me feel wayyyy more awkward than some imaginary conflict the media drummed up between the 2 candidates who are most able to lead us out of the facist hole Bush dug for us (except for Ron Paul, of course).

    Obama/Paul 2008!

    January 29, 2008 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  11. JB

    Geeezzzzzz... is this news?!?

    January 29, 2008 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  12. kevin s.

    this is funny... they were just talking so bad about them... hes supposed to act fake and pretend to be happy to talk to her? if anything you people should respect that man for not being fake... but i guess so many of you live you life acting fake with people everyday. i see why you support hillary, you dont even know what real or genuine looks like.

    January 29, 2008 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  13. 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 all over the world. She has to be twice as good as all the other candidates and she is.

    January 29, 2008 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  14. 4-MerSlave

    And I thought mature minds were allowed in this discussion forum? CNN please impose an IQ test for access to this forum – anyone above 50 points should be allowed.

    Who's to say they didn't greet each other prior to that moment caught on camera? They might have greeted each other in the lobby or so – prior to the moment in the photo.

    Nothing wrong here absolutely. Go Obama! Go Hillary! May the better person win!

    January 29, 2008 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  15. LisaMpls

    It was a blow to Hillary yesterday that Sen. Kennedy endorsed Obama. She overcame that, though, and went over to show that she had no hard feelings. Politics is politics, and she understands that. She is one strong person, and she is prepared to lead us out of our mess.

    Many Obama fans are so in denial. CNN has praised your boy for weeks, if not months. On tv they fall all over themselves when Obama's name is brought up. Only one or two CNN folk actually deliver the news these days without chiding in with his or her own opinion or cheap shot. The moment CNN actually paints Obama in a less than perfect light, his fans go, "Oh, no, that can't be. CNN must be lying. They avoided each other. Ah, ah, ah...it must have only lasted a second. She is just pandering. He should turn away from her." Blah blah blah. Which is it? Did Obama do it as a gesture that she is "musty" as someone put it, or did he not do it at all? The "uniter" didn't have any beautiful rhetoric to hide behind, no teleprompter and podium. And he spent the night canoodling with old politics.

    On a positive note, Hillary was sitting by Biden. Does that mean anything?

    January 29, 2008 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  16. Barb

    I don't blame Obama for turning away – I can't stand to look at her either!!!

    And, you know Hillary has to be seething inside for Kennedy endorsing Obama – just gives a very clear picture of how two-faced she is!!!

    January 29, 2008 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  17. The Future

    stillvotingmyway and All you Obama haters. Can any of you tell me whether you complained when only WHITE MEN were on the ballot since the founding of the United States? Did any of you complain when blacks voted for WHITE MALE presidents? WHY are you making such a big fuss if you are not truly closet racists who simply can't bear to see a black man in the White House?

    The day ALL men are viewed as men rather than through racial lens, then America would have come of age. Until then, I suggest that you and your ilk need to grow up. Not Obama.

    OBAMA 08!!

    January 29, 2008 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  18. joli

    This picture speaks volumes about the 2 Dem candidates. For Obama its depicts a "If youre not with me youre against me" mentality. its a failure of his actions matching the words he so eloquently speaks... of being above the fray, uniting not dividing and bringing hope. Obama missed a moment to let his actions reflect his words. To Obama supporters see this scenario is overkill... they will support him because they hate Clinton.

    If you hate Clinton... you hate her and nothing she will say or do will convince you otherwise. Likewise nothing Obama does or says will convince you to sway away from him.

    But I dont ever hate a candidate I may not agree with their actions and or record but I dont hate them as a person.

    I saw that Obama was unable to leave the politics at the door and support his fellow candidate who had what could be described as a terrible day. And I saw Hillary as a person who swallowed her pride and did not let the politics get in the way of staying united with the party no matter how bad a beating she had taken. And believe me Teddy beat her down in that speech over and over and over again...

    January 29, 2008 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  19. joe paradis

    "You are likeable enough, Hillary." I remember that comment of Mr. Obama and I remember the tone and the context. He is pretty, he makes you tingle when he talks but there is a troubled side to this man and time will bring it out.

    January 29, 2008 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  20. FemaleVoter

    What a picture. Clinton could be friendly and shake hands with Kennedy, but Obama turned away? He had a perfect chance to be gracious and blew it. I'm for her. She's the one who can be the real uniter.

    January 29, 2008 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  21. Mia, Stafford, VA

    Obama's guy said on MSNBC this morning that Barack was attempting to let Sen. Kennedy and Sen. Clinton have their moment and conversation without seeming to stand over Sen. Kennedy. I take it some of you think he should have injected himself into their conversation, he tried to move back so they could reach each other.

    I do hope we are all old enough and mature enough to know a still picture only captures a second, it does not tell you what happened before or after.

    January 29, 2008 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  22. joe

    It is awkward had Obama stayed there listening to what Ted and Hillary were saying. it is ridiculous

    January 29, 2008 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  23. Ike

    Obama's drive to court Blacks' vote to win democratic nomination and at the same remaining aloof to the political turmoil in east african countries of Kenya and Sudan in particular, is unconciounable and hypotrical. A direct and visible confrontation with political factions in these countries would have saved some lives of innocent children brutally slaughtered. What a hollow victory in SC.

    January 29, 2008 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  24. Kusa

    Why are we so concerned about Obama and Hillary being "nice" to each other? So tell me this- how many Americans were killed last night or today due to the shameless war in Iraq?? How many Americans are homeless or jobless due to the state that are country is currently in?? How many Americans were denied health care last night because they didn't have insurance.
    Now, that is what I want to hear, not about Hillary and Barack being civil to each other.

    January 29, 2008 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  25. brad

    It is just one of those quick second shots that are meaningless. Not worth putting much thought into. Rather hear what they have to say and/or actions.

    January 29, 2008 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
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