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. Chris

    Hillary is an opportunist...don't be fooled...you can see it a mile away.

    January 29, 2008 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  2. Trotfox

    Apparently many of you have not been to many packed conferences and understand basic crowd etiquette.

    It is common courtesy when two people are having a conversation to disengage. When there's no room to move you simply turn away – IT'S NOT CONSIDERED A SNUB.

    If he had stayed facing in it would have been intrusive, especially since he knew he was likely the topic of the exchange. It would have made it even more awkward for all 3 of them. If he had stood tall next to the man who he just won over as Hillary came over it would have been perceived as gloating.

    January 29, 2008 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  3. Andrew

    You all do realize that Clinton made no attempt to talk to Obama, right? Why is it just his fault?

    January 29, 2008 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  4. Terry

    WOW!

    This is a new type of journalism. I spent twenty years in journalism and with this kind of "so-called" reporting, CNN has really DIPPED TO A NEW LOW.

    This is real tabloid-ish and I really can't believe that you all wrote this!

    Enough said.

    January 29, 2008 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  5. Rick

    If Hilary was gracious enough to shake the hand and speak to the Senator that betrayed her, Obama could have done the same thing. It is obvious he was snubbing her and what a mature brat Obama is. This is one democrat that will not vote or vote republican if Obama is the candidate. And besides that Ihave lost all respect for Kennedy. The Kennedy dynasty is over so, in my opinion, his endorsement won't matter anyway.

    January 29, 2008 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  6. Mark

    Had Hillary offered to shake Barack's hands, I am sure he would have obliged.

    Someone said Hillary has grace? Hell where? Why didn't she offer a handshake. It was Kennedy who bent his back.

    Go check out the video, and don't twist this anymore

    January 29, 2008 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  7. Sharon

    The right things would have been to say hello to her. Business is business If Kennedy could say hello I think he could have also. It was a snub.

    January 29, 2008 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  8. Dar

    First off, congratulation to CNN for reporting something on Obama other than that he is a golden boy. Be careful, Obama supporters may say your racist or gender bias. Second, for those of you who think this does not matter or they wouldn't have shook her hand either, this is huge since he is the one calling himself the great uniter, you know, the one who can reach across the isle to republicans and democrats alike, guess she was out of arms reach huh? This showed his true character, he reminded me of our current president. Hillary, you were more presidential then I've ever seen Obama look, at least you can have disagreements and go about the business of the American people.

    January 29, 2008 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  9. Our country is facing a recession, an endless war...and this is how we selct a pres..patheyic..

    Quickly scrolling down and reading these comments one is struck with how similar the style and structure they have. Does CNN limit the number of comments per email address. Many of these comments were written by the same person and are obviously a move on the Clintons to make this a big deal. How appropriate to use a picture to decide on how you will vote.

    Obama stayed behind and shook Bush's hand.

    Obama faced the news media and replied to the speech on national tv.

    Hilary left before greeting Pres. Bush and rushed away with no comment.

    January 29, 2008 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  10. Blimzmus

    Kudos to Hillary. Bye crossing the isle to greet a (wheelchair bound) supporter, she demonstrated that she has the courage to face uncomfortable situations head-on. This was also an opportunity for Obama to demonstrate that he can overcome differences, but instead, he turned his back on Clinton. He should have looked her in the eyes and offered to shake her hands. How does he want us to believe that he can unit anybody, when he cannot even look deal with a fellow democrat in a polite manner.

    January 29, 2008 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  11. Yama, Alaska

    A real waste of time Cnn....let's read into everything now....even if it's nothing....let make it something....

    January 29, 2008 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  12. d1andonly

    Who cares who shook whose hand? Did Jessica Yellin run out of constructive topics to discuss??? I didn't even finishing reading the article. It was boring from the start. Let's talk about some critical issues here!

    January 29, 2008 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  13. CL

    He should have given her the SMACK DOWN that she deserves!

    I can't belive people get paid to write this crap.

    January 29, 2008 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  14. player9

    This is so stupid. Clinton was not evening trying to talk to him She was talking to someone else. So before ALL YOU STUPID CLINTON SUPPORTs talk. READ THE ARTICLE. Obama was not rude. Actually, how many of you people will talk to someone who is slandering your character and name?

    GO OBAMA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 29, 2008 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  15. GMB

    This is too funny. It is amazing how everyone can view Obama as being the "immature " one when Miss Hillary could have just as easily spoken to him since she decided to come over to where he was sitting. Seems that if she spent as much time putting her loud mouthed, arrogant husband in check about the dumb stuff he says, this situation would be null and void. It is funny how she said on TV the other night that it was all due to "sleep deprivation." Well, if you want to prove that you can run the country, you could begin in your own house by telling the man that he is killing your candidacy. That is obvious in the SC results, which she still refuses to talk about. Talking about a sore loser!

    January 29, 2008 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  16. Aaron

    Why are all of you Obama supporters suggesting he "did the right thing, and he avoided an ugly situation."? A real leader doesn't avoid the bad situations, he/she goes an get in the bad situation up to their elbows... not turn their back to the situation. If you people really want another four years of a "learning on the job" president which is what we got when Bush was elected, then by all means vote for Obama... if you want the kind of leader that can go into a bad situation and come out smiling then you should vote for Clinton, that women takes hit after hit, and continues to stay in the fight, that woman is a real leader.

    January 29, 2008 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  17. Brennan - Seattle, WA

    This is the most ridiculous item to come out of the media yet.

    Barack looks like he is just trying to move out of the way so that he is not in the middle of their conversation. There was no ill will intended.

    If you take 100s of pictures one is bound to capture some moment in time when cadidates are not at their best.

    Have politics now turned into paparazzi events?

    January 29, 2008 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  18. Ann

    Soldiers are dying in Iraq and we are worried about this.. Typical TMZ I mean CNN.

    January 29, 2008 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  19. Mae

    In watching on this last night it was obvious that BO turned his back on Mrs. Clinton, why, he only knows, but it was rude and immature. But he has gotten this way because of the press and those that support him from the ole school, but that really doesn't mean a thing to this election as far as I am concerned. What you see is what you get and eventually it all comes out in the wash now or later painfully for all of us if he is elected.

    January 29, 2008 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  20. Eric

    To me Obama looked childish and immature. Could you imagine if Hillary had done this to Obama? The media and blogs would be all over her.

    January 29, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  21. B.W.

    Elvis Presley will vote Hillary... LOL

    January 29, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  22. Discouraged

    It's favoritism–that's all it is. Plain and simple–unfair preferential treatment. We see it in the workplace so why not on national TV. For some reason, the media and the commentators do not want to say anything unfavorable about Obama, much less criticism him or his campaign about anything he says or does. Um, I wonder why that is.?? Hillary is like "open season" - anything goes when it comes to her. My friends and family in other states are getting fed up with all this. Why is he off limits? I have my insights. Why should Obama's campaign pay for negative TV ads when they have the media to do their dirty work and for free!

    January 29, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  23. Bob

    For all you fools that don't know anything about Political Etiquette, I'll try to explain. You just don't do what Obama did; you stay above it if you don't like your opponant just like she did. She has always presented herself as a dignified lady. She never once snubbed anyone and I thought she should have snubbed Kennedy but having seen what Obama looked like, I understand why she didn't. Just look at how he looks now – he has an awful bad attitude and it's still early in the game. Can you imagine what's coming. He's just a big Cad and a Baby and less of a man for that act. It's just not politically correct and if none of you can rise about your sexism and give credit where credit is due, then none of you belong voting. I now choose Hillary, the lady.

    January 29, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  24. college student

    After reading these blogs I truly see that people will always try to turn something small into something big. Hillary and Bill Clinton went a whole week on being negative and making sly racist comments. Think about this... U dnt knw if they spoke in the hallway or knowing Ms. Hillary in the mens bathroom. Just because a camara man was waiting to see something negative to make people talk yall believe it and try to make it news. There are bigger and better things to talk about and discuss. She lied on him so why should he speak to her? Thats double talk. If the man took a picture of them hugging it would be something else. Hillary wants people to forget about the records she dnt want open while her husband was president... THATS NEWS!

    SHE IS A HORRIBLE PERSON SHE HAS SUM MAJOR SKELTONS SHE DNT WANT SEEN

    January 29, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  25. tracey

    Vote for a real man...a woman!

    Hillary for President!

    January 29, 2008 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
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