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. Angie, Charlotte NC

    Sooo...it's not possible that Hillary and Obama already spoke?! This stuff is really starting to get ridiculous......

    January 29, 2008 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  2. Kris

    So they aren't particularly found of each other, breaking news! Keep on keeping it real Barack!!

    January 29, 2008 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  3. Chris

    Who is the grown-up now? Hmmm!

    January 29, 2008 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  4. Gary Ashbaugh

    Isn't it sad that in today's politics that even the candidate that is saying that he wants "Change-Yes we Can" is really showing by his action at the Presidential Address that it's the same old politics. Real "Change" would be being able to actually look the person in the face, smile, and shake their hands despite their differences.

    January 29, 2008 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  5. Tickled To Death

    I am tickled by all of the Pro-Hillary commenters that have interpreted Barack's stance in the photo as a snub to Hillary. He was just being polite and giving Hillary and Ted a moment of privacy.

    And another thing....if a picture taken at a moment in time is supposed to be a testament to a person's overall character, please tell me what the American people are to take from the picture of the smiling Clinton's posing with Mr. Renzko...the Hillary Clinton proclaimed "slumlord"?

    ....I am truly tickled about all of this hoopla over nothing....ROFL!!!

    January 29, 2008 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  6. Evin

    That so many people are ready to pounce on this pathetic spin piece and jab either candidate is really disheartening. These are the kind of people who vote? This is what sways you? R.I.P. U.S.A.

    January 29, 2008 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  7. BabyMagic

    For those who say this not news are not paying attention. Everything these 2 candidates do is news. If one of them breaks wind during one of their speeches I'm sure we will hear about it. Just get used to it and try and keep up with the real issues. Giving any credence to these kinds of stories only gives the so-called news media more ammunition to keep putting things like this out there.

    Now, that being said I am also going to throw a few logs on this fire:

    First, I do think that Obama showed a great deal of immaturity. As sevaral have said it would have gone a long way to hit home his unity mantra. As President he will have to meet with world leaders who he will not like and he will have to actually pay attention to them – shake their hands, speak in pleasantries, show a true statesman is in their midst. His failure to show the basic courtesy to a fellow Democrat does not fare well in my eyes, I don't care who it is.

    Second, for those who said that Clinton should have "tapped him on the arm" to speak to him. Why? If someone turns their back on me I would prefer not to make a scene by trying to engage that person and make the situation more awkward. It was obvious Obama did not wish to acknowledge or speak to her so she chose to do the same. Right or wrong, I think she took the high road on this one.

    Third, President Bush did shake Obama's had after he had given his speech. He did not shake Clinton's. Read what you want into that; it was just another snippet in an article I read earlier today.

    January 29, 2008 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  8. Davy

    To all those who've commented that the Obama "snub" is "spin"– that is exactly how the photographer interpreted this moment–as Obama turning his back to Clinton.

    Even if it was "unintentional," he must have known that people were watching and he should have taken the opportunity to intentionally shake Clinton's hand and demonstrate graciousness. I am disappointed in Obama.

    January 29, 2008 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  9. Doug M

    Give me a break. As a photographer I know this is a big nothing. The Clintons ought to be ashamed of themselves for how they have conducted themselves.

    I wonder how many Dem and Indep. Obama supporters are like me – likely to not vote or vote for McCain rather than vote for Hillary if she gets the nomination. The opposite is not true- Billary supporters will vote for Obama if he gets the nod.

    The reason many of us are thinking this way is that Billary has been dishonest and disingenuous in their whole approach to the campaign- and everyone should know it.

    Go Obama. This is really a powerful movement. Its not just about him; whereas, the Clinton campaign is all about Bush Clinton Bush Clinton, power and arrogance. And I voted for Bill twice.

    Democrats ought to read Frank Rich's Sunday Op Ed piece entitled the Billary road to Republican Victory as well as all the other Sunday- Tuesday New York Times articles and Op Ed pieces about the campaign. David Brooks even said some pretty powerful pro Obama things in todays NYTs.

    January 29, 2008 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  10. Janice Paredes

    I've supported the Kennedys all the way throughout the years-except this one. My vote is for Hillary.

    January 29, 2008 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  11. Barbara Rau

    The way I see it is if it's making fun of Hillary (and Bill) then it's O.K. If it's making fun of Obama then it's not O.K. GO HILLARY (AND BILL)!!! Why pick on Bill, as far as I'm concerned it was one of our best presidents and we certainly were better off when he was president. Hillary tried for health insurance for everyone when she was the first lady of the White House. That was shot down by the Republicans. I think she learned a lot when she was first lady about working with everyone to get things done – just like she says – and that's what we need – experience.

    January 29, 2008 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  12. Buena717

    RE:Obama "i am also concerned that obama's supporters are too liberal, the old kind of tax and spend liberals that we voted out, and also that maybe they are supporting him becuase they think he would be easier to manipulate. clinton is much more moderate, much smarter and better prepared."
    -that's it in a nutshell, folks.

    January 29, 2008 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  13. manubi

    Is CNN running out of news to cover? How about sending John King down Florida to cover the Republican Primary? Or why don't you read what's on MSNBC or Foxnews and take a more mature piece of news from their web site for posting? Stop posting this kind of nonsense on your website.

    January 29, 2008 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  14. Jenny from Indiana

    How about remembering that we don't know what happened? We should stop reading into to these ridiculous things that we don't know about. Maybe they had talked earlier, maybe Obama wanted to give Kennedy and Clinton a chance to talk since the endorsement had come that day. Come on people, we're more intelligent than to over-read into this.

    January 29, 2008 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  15. Rachel

    This is sad. Why couldn't he just turn and say Hello, but NO, he completely blew her off.

    IS THIS WHAT HE IS GOING TO DO TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE!!!

    January 29, 2008 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  16. Jimmy Lopez

    I personally believe...that some people out there....in America...uh sorry, wrong stage.

    Give me a break! CNN you pick and choose photo's to create division! This has nothing to do with what people what to hear about most! JOBS, HEALTH CARE, LESS CRIME, IMMIGRATION, AND THEN END OF THE IRAQ WAR!!!!

    January 29, 2008 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  17. Sandy

    This is CNN making a mountain out of a molehill. PLEASE....Obama was in the dominant position!!! He was just endorsed by Edwards. MAYBE he didn't want to rub it in by interfering with Clinton's networking!

    January 29, 2008 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  18. J, Ca

    Well done, Jesica Yellin. This is priceless. No matter how little the incident ,it says lot about character of Obama.

    January 29, 2008 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  19. NoWorry

    Politically, Obama is just not mature yet. Look at Hillary and Kennedy from the picture, Hillary is just graceful though Kennedy just endorsed Obama a few hours ago. No matter what, Obama should shake hand with Hillary at that moment.

    Obama is still young. He has a long way to go. Obama is not ready to be American president , a world leader just yet That's why I believe that Hillary will win the presidential election this year though Obama gives us a great encouragement and fresh air.

    January 29, 2008 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  20. JAB

    Oh yes, and Obama is bringing change? Yea right – he is showing his true colors. If that had been Hillary that snubbed him – wow- it would then be looked at as a race card on her part – a lot of double talk here with Barack Obama. He is a talker – not a doer. And with Ted Kennedy by his side – the Republicans are going to chew him up and spit him out come the general election. They are already talking about the Socialist government that he would have with Ted Kennedy with him.

    January 29, 2008 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  21. Patch

    Grow up, CNN.

    Senator Obama's talking to Senator Claire McCaskle (conveniently not in the camera frame.)

    This is such a non-story.

    January 29, 2008 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  22. Mike

    Once again we see only half the truth and was there a CNN reporter sitting there given first hand commentary?
    Did Hillary make an attempt to acknowledge Obama?
    If this was such a huge news story, why wasn’t there a video camera taping the entire encounter?
    Maybe Obama should have left the event early just as Hillary left South Carolina before the polls even closed.

    January 29, 2008 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  23. Shana

    Wow! What a snobby little brat! He is so immature and this move was not very presidential at all. Hillary took the high road and I'm sure Ted is now wondering if he made the right decision. Hillary 2008!

    January 29, 2008 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  24. veronica lynne

    This it was rude and tasteless and childish on Obama's part.
    "Ungracious" they called it on TV (and they are generally favorable to Obama).
    He's claiming to be a UNITER??
    Obama reminds me of arrogant Bush.
    No thanks.

    January 29, 2008 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  25. Are you people serious?

    I am a woman so it takes one to know one.....

    If you are a woman, you know exactly what Hillary is doing. We do that, to make a statement that she has still not learned her lesson. On top of that she usual would be seated next to OBAMA in other congress hearing/meeting. There is more to come out of the bag of tricks she play. Yet she still has not address any of the statements her husband has made to offend African-American. I am not fooled but the tactics of Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, but I see that a lot of you are just in for the mess of it.

    WOMEN KNOWS WOMEN!!!!! Sometime we are really not in it to be fair, it's just for distances and irritation. MEN should know better......APPARENTLY OBAMA DOES!!!!!

    I rebuke you Hillary!!!!!! Keep it up!!!!!

    Eve was the cause of the fall of the woman, so what do you think she will do to a country and beyond.

    January 29, 2008 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
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