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. Youth Voter

    Jessica is being mild with Obama and his cocky supporters. I would have said "Arrogant moment".

    Just because he got Kennedy nod, he started acting arrogantly. Oh wait, he was always arrogant and cocky in his emails asking for money.

    The true self is coming out of people to see. Is this how Presidential Obama is?

    January 29, 2008 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  2. A. Quest

    Wow..this Obama guy is done.

    January 29, 2008 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  3. Matt

    Wow, this is all over the media now.

    Very immature, Obama.

    January 29, 2008 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  4. Smith Kathleen

    This is the truth. Clinton started it

    ############################################################

    The relationship began to change, according to several Democrats who are friendly to both senators, 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.

    One week later, following the State of the Union address, the two senators found themselves doing a back-to-back interview on CNN. Mr. Obama went first, with Mrs. Clinton pacing a few feet away. Finally, an aide escorted her completely around the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building, avoiding walking directly by Mr. Obama.

    Many Senate observers, even those close to Mrs. Clinton, say they believe she set the less-than-collegial tone. But Mr. Obama offered a glimpse into his own competitiveness two years ago when a Chicago television reporter who had come to Washington to interview Mr. Obama informed him that he had snagged a hallway interview with Mrs. Clinton.

    ######################################################

    January 29, 2008 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  5. checkandbalance

    ...and if barack had greeted hillary with ted by his side then we would be reading about how barack gloated to her about kennedy's endorsement.

    since when is minding one's own business inappropriate?

    January 29, 2008 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  6. Glenn

    Oh, please. Can we stop looking for bigger and bigger microscopes to put these people under? This is ridiculous! They've been campaigning for months and have greeted each other plenty of times before and after the debates.

    I'm not planning on voting for either of them, but for Pete's sake...

    ...allow the guy a night OFF!

    January 29, 2008 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  7. from: Chicago for Mrs Clinton

    CNN cutes many Hillary Clinton supporters comments!!!!!!!
    I wrote the comment and is not here !!!!!!!
    Obama needs to gor back to school !!!!!! To learn how to fairplay role !!!!!
    not to make a rice issues and divide the country betweed Black and White !!!!!!

    In that point my VOTE WILL GO TO HILLARY !!!!!!!!!

    January 29, 2008 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  8. suzy

    Personally, I see smugness and arrogance is Obama's face lately.
    His ego is so front and center. If you think this is not going to his head, think again.

    Hillary is a tough woman, AND SHE WILL WIN.
    GO HILLARY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    CALIFORNIA IS WAITING FOR YOU!!!!!!!

    AND THANKS TO CNN FOR ONCE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 29, 2008 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  9. Ande

    Quite frankly, America doesn't deserve Barack Obama. The majority voted to have Bush for 8 years. Now those same people are looking at Hillary who is as fake as she is in this picture. Obama is real. His expression is human. He is unlike so many of the other politicians who carry a fiscade of a smile yet underneath it all are full of lies and deception.

    Yes. America doesn't deserve greatness. They deserve what they will elect in Nov 2008. More of the Clintons, who are so removed from anything greats it's a shame.

    January 29, 2008 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  10. Nik, Houston, TX

    If you look at the picture, Hillary's hard while shaking Kennedy's is about 3 inches from Obama's elbow. Obviously, as Hillary approached, Obama turned away, effectively showing his lack of candor and charisma that he claims to have on stage. This man cannot be a united if he can't make truce with his opponent DESPITE having the opponent come close to him... his work was done for him by Hillary, yet he didn't extend his hand, acknowledge her presence, and then turn his back (still rude, though not as much), and talk to Sen. McKaskill. I hope the senators in the rows above noticed this and realized Obama's true nature, reminiscent of the "You're likable enough, Hillary" moment. Race issue? There's none. There's just Obama's susceptibility to confrontation that he must later promote as racism to avoid any questioning. If nominated, the GOP will shred this guy to pieces.

    January 29, 2008 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  11. VJS

    Think about it – If Obama won't acknowledge Hillary, who yes is a rival, but she is a member of his party. Face it, Hillary is not all that warm and cuddly, but If this type of behavior is the change Obama speaks of, I'm not interested. Will this behavior spill over in to foreign policy too?

    January 29, 2008 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  12. Clintons

    So, WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Is this even news???

    January 29, 2008 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  13. DistrictAutocrat

    Caroline and Ted Kennedy's edorsement of Barack Obama have a dual effect on the candidate. As a Democratic heavy weight, Ted Kennedy's endorsement would embolden some non-decided Democrats (and democrats) to swing towards Obama-with similar effects from Caroline Kennedy's endorsement.

    These endorsements, however, place Obama with the 'Old Guard.' By being likend to John F. Kennedy by Caroline, Obama's stance that Washington, DC and America should move beyond the polarizing issues of the past. While the JFK reference is placed in the context of today's America, the imagery is still there and still strong.

    Additionally, Ted Kennedy's endorsement posits a 'politics as usual' aura around Obama. This signals that any 'new leadership' will be in the context of the 'old leadership'-relating to a power base. Additionally, the increased positive media coverage linking the two (seen seated side-by-side at the State of the Union) deflates the politics of change message of the Obama camp. It can be perceived, by some, as the politics of change but if allowed by the 'old guard' and on their terms.

    How is Obama an agent of change?

    January 29, 2008 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  14. Belinda

    Now is not the time to panic, much can happen between now and the Democratic Convention. If present trends continue, the biggest cross over voting will take place in Democrat History. Someone in the Republican party will reap all those votes. We the people will not elect anyone who has a name, and connection to the islamic world. We don't need the Islamic influence on us. We will not vote for anyone who insists on change when that change will amount to appointing black cronies to the highest seats in government, and black judges to lower courts and supreme courts, not to mention the hundreds of other positions. We will in fact have a self inflicted apartheid situation here in the US.
    We need a change in our constitution to eleminate the possibility of having another president like this last one, whose leanings toward big business gave us one of the biggest screwings of modern times. We had a choice to elect a battle tried vetran or a cop out fighter pilot who never knew combat. How crazy are we? We have the opportunity to elect a president that knows and believes in God. We have a XPOW who thinks that qualifies him giving him credentials to be commander in chief. We have an x mayor who will ride the coat tails of tradgedy as a qualification to be president, a real rainbow, after the storm.

    January 29, 2008 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  15. K.Lee

    Awww....c'mon CNN! this is really not news!! You are looking a little too hard. I'm pretty sure that the candidates still respect each other on a professional level. I rather hear something about solutions to our declining economy rather than someone not "acknowledging " another person. Please quit trying to put spins to "so called stories" !!!

    Have a blessed day!!!

    January 29, 2008 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  16. Mike D

    oh please. clinton supporters are really stretching with this one.

    January 29, 2008 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  17. Mark, CA

    I think it must have been uncomfortable for Hillary to go and shake hands with Ted Kennedy. Obama was in a better position there, he should have acted like a bigger person. He's played the "victim card" with the Clintons comments. I don't think he is ready for the atacks of the republican candidate in the elections.

    January 29, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  18. trey

    i think this story is of a completely unneccessary sort.

    honestly, is this really being reported? CNN should really concentrate more on what really matters.

    January 29, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  19. anonymous

    wow....real presidential!!!

    January 29, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  20. Stuart

    I don't have a dog in this race since I'm supporting McCain, but it does concern me that Obama didn't have the courage to look Senator Clinton in the eye and greet her appropriately. It makes you wonder how he will do on the world stage, when facing disagreements and tense moments with other world leaders. It concerns me greatly. Even though I do not trust nor support 90% of Clinton's policies, atleast I know she has the courage to look other leaders in the eye.

    January 29, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  21. Sridhar

    Mr. Clean, The Uniter, Mr. Obama ...... wow! This was your chance to show you are a true "UNITER". If you cannot acknowlege your own party oponent, how in the world we should believe that you will reach out to Republicans !! ... Time to pause .....

    January 29, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  22. Tom, New York, NY

    Karl, of SC,

    Just like Obama left Nevada without any concession speech or personal thank you for all the people who worked so hard to actually deliver more delegates for him than Clinton got, even though she won the vote? All he did was issue a statement on his website and email.....

    Hillary did thank her workers in SC... alot more than Obama did for the people in Nevada....

    Oh well,,,, Obama supporters only hear words... they must be incapable of seeing actions and interpreting whether his actions support his words or not.... just like Bush supporters I guess... blown away by rhetoric...

    January 29, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  23. Pat, Fremont, CA

    Is this another "You are likeable enough, Hillary" momemt by Obama? He really needs to learn some Etiquette.

    January 29, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  24. Aaron

    Hey Barbara... CNN said he didn't shake her hand, in fact CNN said he didn't even acknowledge her. Get your head out lady! The funny thing is that Obama is CNN's little poster boy, so it is strange that they would even bring this up, becuase it does indeed make him look bad.

    January 29, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  25. sue smith

    and what is your point?

    January 29, 2008 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
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