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. Linda R. in W'bridge, VA

    Obama turned his back to her and never once turned around to greet her. He had opportunity Hillary was standing facing him for nearly five minutes while she spoke with other members of the Senate.

    What Obama did was rude and disrepectful towards a senior member of the Senate.

    If Obama wants change and civility in politics he should practice what he preaches.

    January 29, 2008 12:17 am at 12:17 am |
  2. Julian

    This is relevant political reporting? Wasn't it Lyndon Johnson who pointed out the importance of knowing chicken salad from something else that came from chickens?

    January 29, 2008 12:18 am at 12:18 am |
  3. Rachel, Storm Lake, IA

    Of course they are, that's CNN's style these days, highlighting the completely irrelevant occurrences and comments instead of focusing on the issues. Whatever happened to journalistic integrity?

    January 29, 2008 12:19 am at 12:19 am |
  4. horatio

    Obama reminds me of another petulant politician we know all too well.

    January 29, 2008 12:19 am at 12:19 am |
  5. C-dog

    They are both warriors. Why should they have acknowledged each other? Would you make it a point to kiss up to an adversary just for the sake of the cameras?

    Let it go........

    January 29, 2008 12:19 am at 12:19 am |
  6. Peter

    So he's still arrogant and ill mannered. Your point?

    January 29, 2008 12:20 am at 12:20 am |
  7. Yup

    Hillary shows us time & time again that it's thickness of skin not color of skin.

    Race never had a place in this campaign and Hillary is proving it every single day with her Grace Under Fire.

    GoHillaryGo!!!

    January 29, 2008 12:21 am at 12:21 am |
  8. Greg, Houston TX

    They don't like each other. This is the behavior one would expect between two people who don't like each other.

    January 29, 2008 12:21 am at 12:21 am |
  9. Kim, Los Angeles, CA

    NO, she is not reading too much into it. Senator Clinton and Senator Kennedy are grown ups. They know that Hillary might just get the nomination, and that they must all work together as Democrats, no matter who they are supporting now.
    Obama continues to act like a cry baby and an immature whiner: his debates and speeches consist of only two themes: change and attacking the Clintons for picking on him. His lack of policy expertise is shocking, and he obviously hasn't a clue as to how to pay for and implement the "wonderful" changes he outlines.
    Obama has never said in one speech how he will pay for his lofty plans. Meanwhile, Senator Clinton has outlined how each of her programs will be payed for, and she had demonstrated a dazzling breadth of knowledge in both eonomic and foreign policy. Obama 's speeches are beginning to sound like a fairy tale: where every one will live happily ever after: ONLY THERE IS NO ONE TO PAY FOR THE HAPPY ENDING.

    January 29, 2008 12:21 am at 12:21 am |
  10. James

    I think not. He saw her and purposely turned away. This is Change!!!

    January 29, 2008 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  11. caesar

    Looking way too deep into it.
    Geez...
    grow up.

    January 29, 2008 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  12. Amy

    Obama is a jerk. Yes, as a younger male, he was supposed to try greeting her. If she didn't pay attention, it was her fault. Obama's protectors should teach him some manners.

    January 29, 2008 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  13. caesar

    censure, censure, censure..
    censure this!

    January 29, 2008 12:23 am at 12:23 am |
  14. ae

    OMG! Are they in HS or something? That behavior is just utterly ridiculous. I am supporting Obama, but he really could have stood to act like a grown up. Sheesh!

    January 29, 2008 12:25 am at 12:25 am |
  15. chevyk

    Reading too far into this. and besides after what the clinton campaign has tried to do to this man, i would do more than ignore her. Trust me the clintons are not running a remotly clean race here.

    January 29, 2008 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  16. Evin

    Agreed. And don't put the burden on his shoulders.

    January 29, 2008 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  17. Jack in MA

    Shame Obama, and you are running to be a president on the platform of inclusiveness....

    January 29, 2008 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  18. ani

    I thing press is obsessed with race. Oprah played the race card first.

    January 29, 2008 12:27 am at 12:27 am |
  19. RC

    Let's hope she won't have to be around this immature, mean spirited, divisive person for long. Florida and super Tuesday can't come fast enough!

    January 29, 2008 12:27 am at 12:27 am |
  20. Christian, Tampa FL

    Not good for either of them, but let's not look too far into this. I think they really need a break from each other; I highly doubt that any deep-seated animosity exists between them. There's undoubtedly a lot of hard feelings because of the crossfire, and frankly because the Clintons have been playing kind of dirty lately.

    However, I hope that they both snap out of it soon. As an Obama supporter, I would like to see the Illinois Senator rise above this silliness.

    I keep seeing this picture used, but I don't think any photo should be used as an indication of a moment.

    January 29, 2008 12:27 am at 12:27 am |
  21. INDEPENDENT

    Goes to show what type of president he will be... Maybe he can do the same to all statemen/women when they criticize or agree with him..

    i thought he was above all of this, I guess I was wrong...

    How childish...

    OBAMA I guess you are a spoiled brat....

    January 29, 2008 12:27 am at 12:27 am |
  22. Rick

    This goes to show how big a child Barack Obama is and will be if he is able to still this country from better and more qualified leaders like Sen. Clinton. Barack Obama could have been the bigger person and stuck is hand out to Clinton but instead he turned his back much like he did in Illinois with his votes. He can’t be trusted and will do anything to win over voters. This feel good ride that Obama is over, now it’s time to jump on the Clinton train 08’.

    January 29, 2008 12:27 am at 12:27 am |
  23. East Side Love

    Obama doesn't practice what he preaches... where is the unity he shoves down our throats?

    January 29, 2008 12:27 am at 12:27 am |
  24. C.LyOnS, New York NY

    Stop just stop already...

    January 29, 2008 12:28 am at 12:28 am |
  25. lava

    How sad. How very sad. And he says he is a uniter and not a divider? Give me your break! He can't even talk to his fellow Democrat, forget about talking to a Republican.

    January 29, 2008 12:28 am at 12:28 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81