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. roger Salvo

    this picture shows how unprofessional, uncivilized, and inexperienced Obama is. He is not ready to lead this Country.

    January 29, 2008 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  2. Clintonhater

    Sandra January 29, 2008 11:22 am ET

    Oh, Obama supporters, why do you HATE Hillary so much? I can understand if she just isn't your candidate, but I don't understand your sheer malice towards her. You couldn't stand to be in the same roome with her? Really? What has she ever done to deserve your scorn? I think your misogyny is rearing it's head. Do a little self-evaluation: if this contest were between two black men would you be hating Clinton so much?
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    I don't hate her

    I just don't trust her and I'm black and still alittle upset at the fact that she and her husband spent the last 3 weeks trying to brainwash people into thinking that Blacks are a bunch of misinformed monkeys who are voting for obama strictly on skin tone...I take real offense to that cause I"m a college graduate and I don't make political choices based on race or gender and I know alot of blacks who don't so to even try and paint that picture is a slap in the face to me...

    January 29, 2008 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  3. Aj

    I think Obama's fed up with the race-baiting and gender-baiting from the Clinton campaign and it shows. He's accepted several apologies from Hill (from the 1st weed smoking comment made by one of her staffers, to Bill Johnson's ghetto remarks, then the false statements about his stance on the Iraq War, and now the Jesse Jackson remarks, etc.) who after every transgression insists she is innocent and claims it will never happen again. But her attacks and distortions don't stop!!! She's a hypocrite and he doesn't care for her phony smiles and fake apologies.

    January 29, 2008 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  4. Jeff, St. Joseph, MI

    Obama took the high road and avoided Clinton's political games. Thats what I see.

    January 29, 2008 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  5. Hillary Supporter

    Can't wait until Hillary WINS Florida tonight.....will Obama whine and complain then, too? Will he call to congratulate her?

    You can say all you want that Florida does not matter....THE PEOPLE IN FLORIDA WILL VOTE REGARDLESS OF DELIGATES.........ALL THREE DEMS ARE ON THE BALLOT...............

    CNN for goodness sakes at least let Florida be heard......

    January 29, 2008 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  6. Barbara

    Again Hillary Supporters are full of it. HRC campaign came out and stated they had already shook hands. Why are her supporters so desparate to try to create problems when there are none.

    January 29, 2008 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  7. Anna

    Needless to say, I'm let down. I expected more from both candidates, and much more from Obama. How this article says he acted is extremely immature. I've always considered him a good candidate for the presidency, but if he's just going to turn away when confronted with someone he doesn't agree with, maybe he's not. I've been trying to choose which one I like best (even if i can't vote because I'll still be too young) and this behavior just knocked him down a couple of notches in my book.

    January 29, 2008 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  8. Brian (Dallas, Texas)

    Why should Barack be cordial with Hillary in this setting? It's clear Hillary is not being cordial on the campaign trail, so for Obama to play nice with her in this setting would just demonstrate typical fake, two-faced political behavior. Haven't we had enough of this in our government?

    I commend him for being real in front of this staged event by Clinton. She knew exactly what she was doing and the press and much of the public has bought right into it.

    January 29, 2008 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  9. KeepingUpAppearances

    This picture only tells me one thing:

    Like most of us, Hillary is a hypocrite – we do it at work with the bosses and colleagus we don't lik, some of you even do it at home and remain in miserable marriages.

    We have become a nation of 'keeping up appearances' . The artificial is becoming the natural. Just as Hillary is pretending that beign married to a serial adulterer is not a problem.

    People here are saying Obama should have 'pretended'!!!!
    This man is real. He was not being phony, pretending to be happy to see her.

    Just a bunch of hypocrites.

    January 29, 2008 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  10. Al

    MSN and Foxnews reported similar stands on the encounter.

    Call CNN what you like but it's not all that different from even the most conservative sides of the news.

    I like both candidates. However, it should have been a friendly encounter. Obama let me down in this instance. I thought they wanted the issues to be the forefront of the elections.

    Obama is a great speaker, probably one of the best. However, I've yet to hear HOW he will change things. It's always an empty blank when it comes to HOW. Rhetoric worked in the South Carolina race but the rest of the nation is not pre-predominately African-American. Race is always issue, like it or not. That is probably a good thing as race keeps it diverse.

    I'm listening and I'm still waiting for a real plan from Obama, not a speech on what might be. Save the dreams for another time. The Republicans don't play nice and they don't live in a dream land. Come with it or go home. Obama's charisma is undeniable but this isn't church. Preach somewhere else.

    Impress me Mr. Obama. My vote is waiting and my ears grow tired of Sunday morning banter.

    January 29, 2008 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  11. Jonb, Colorado

    Ellery, I am a Kenyan who is now living in the U.S. I think you need to have a little faith in Kenyans; we can and will take care of our own problems. Right now Obama needs to focus on the United States of America and nothing else. Also, while the 800 deaths in Kenya is still a tradgedy, you go too far characterizing it as a genocide. The civilized world had a tough time officially calling what happened in Rwanda a genocide and that situation left ~930,000 dead.

    January 29, 2008 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  12. Pam Brown

    I for one would like to see video before commenting. I really don't think Obama would do something like what is being portrayed. I don't think we will see a video though as that Would tell the Truth.

    January 29, 2008 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  13. Luke

    Last time i checked.... hillary didn't initiate a "hi barack, how are you?" either...

    So they're both at fault. let it go

    January 29, 2008 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  14. foxyroxy

    Wow, I wonder why Obama has that sullen expression…he looks like a kid with a grudge. He is having a temper tantrum on the playground! It is apparent that he wears his emotions on his sleeve. Barack is not strong enough to be president of this country. I was on the fence between Clinton and Obama, however, this picture helped me make up my mind. I will be voting for Clinton. We need a woman to guide this country. I’m tired of the scandals that a lot of our men leaders have found themselves involved in. A message to Obama….even if you hate them, you have to learn to smile in their faces! It makes you look like the better person who took the high road. He is a phony…just like Oprah.

    January 29, 2008 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  15. kd

    This is tabloid material...at best. How much does this actually have to do with either candidates character?

    January 29, 2008 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  16. DD, New York

    You know...the picture shows him turning away from Clinton...the live view of this while watching TV did look deliberate...this does not bode well for a candidate for presidency. It lacks maturity. And let us not forget that during the January 21, 2008 Democratic debate, at one point, the cameraman picks up a shot of Obama getting annoyed (and with who, Wolf Blitzer, the camera man?) , but he was behaving very childish. These are not points I want in a president. I predict Obama will have a meltdown before all of the primaries are done.

    January 29, 2008 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  17. kris

    maybe Bill Clinton is looking for more than just being first ladd. could Hillary make him her runing mate as vice president. ? you know that would make history also .The Clintons have a lots of opitions for making history.

    kris
    dallas texas

    January 29, 2008 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  18. Waaaiit a minute

    First of all I think the media is trying to make something out of nothing. This has been a harsh campain especially on the Clinton' side since Obama showed that he could actually win this thing. But did Hilary, at any point, tried to acknowledge Obama? Why is he the one being blamed for so called "lack of civility"? She could have very well reached to the Senator.

    January 29, 2008 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  19. Rev. E. Powell M.D.

    There is an old saying, the truth stands still, a lie travels the world.
    I make this statement to all the world.

    January 29, 2008 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  20. Captain America

    Obama, be a man! You looked like a wimp.

    January 29, 2008 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  21. john W

    This is utterly ridiculous. Our Democratic party is desperately trying for an -ism of any kind. Sexism, racism it is stupid. The two are not friends they are both applying for the same job. How can people truly expect there to be any peace between them. This race is a war with either side saying the same thing I want to be the next president. To the women claiming its sexist try looking at it from the other side. Not just a man running for office but a black man. And truly they are both minorities in this race they shouldn’t be trying to slash each others throat’s, but that’s politics on any level at any time any were. Her being a woman is a first and he being a Black man is also a first so tone it down. It’s not like Obama is trying to ensure that women never get their chance to do some good for this country. next we are going to here a war of women with racism involved, so stict to the facts and whats being said and ignore the racial and sexual orientation of the people running.

    January 29, 2008 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  22. Chris

    I think there is way too many important things to be thinking about than beating this thing to death.

    January 29, 2008 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  23. Justin Tyme

    How can we be certain CNN is running a true account?
    I would like to see footage of at least 5 miniutes before the picture scene and 5 minutes after.

    Remember we live in the 21 Century and not everything we are told is true.

    January 29, 2008 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  24. sandy

    America, get a life!!! Have you never been in a crowd and inadvertantly did not see someone?? also, he knew it was an awkward day for Clinton. Why kick her when she's down what with Kennedy standing right there with him. Give me a break,there's more important things going on in this world, and your right, CNN is just trying to make news and keep the ratings up. God help us all until these news stations start doing their jobs and cover the news!!!!

    January 29, 2008 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  25. Gary

    It doesn't matter who you are supporting this is not the way the recent winner of South Carolina should behave!
    They are in the same party!
    I admire both of these people.
    But SHAME on you Mr. Obama!!
    Is this the beginning of Mr. Obama talking out of both sides of his mouth as well??
    Also for once this is not a "snap shot." If you watched the whole thing it was Very Obvious that Mr. Obama was dissing Mrs. Clinton.
    I suppose we will have to watch and see.

    January 29, 2008 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
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