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. Jim

    How childish and insecure !!! B. Obama – you've just convinced me to vote for Hillary in the Maryland Primaries.

    January 29, 2008 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  2. Shaun

    David Alexrod's explanation sounds totally plausible to me. It probably was awkward, and Barack probably wanted Ted Kennedy to have an opportunity to speak with Hillary without standing between them, particularly since Ted wasn't able to speak to her before he endorsed Obama. Jessica's blow by blow, however, is written as if none of that is even remotely possible. It does seem to be evidence of the media's ability (and desire) to create something out of nothing. This is silly.

    January 29, 2008 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  3. Oren Ovadia, California

    It just shows that Obama is not ready to run the country. If you noticed, he always looked at Hillary for a Que when to clap and when to stand. Showing me, that he is not strong enough to be our next President.

    January 29, 2008 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  4. AJ

    And this is the man that is preaching change left and right. If he can't behave like a true gentleman with his own peers, how can we expect him to treat us.. the regular Joes with a week to week paychecks and no 'above-average' kids.

    If you hear these words:

    "Our nation must rise above a house divided. Americans share hopes and goals and values far more important than any political disagreements. Our votes may differ, but not our hopes. I know America wants reconciliation and unity. I know Americans want progress. And we must seize this moment and deliver."

    You would think they come from a champion for change and unity.. think again.. these words come from a speech by George W Bush on December 2003. Senator Obama, our country deserves more than words and childish tantrums.

    January 29, 2008 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  5. parany20011

    The comments in here lack nuance. The fact of the matter is that Hillary is FAKE and participates is FAKE handshaking and FAKE politics. We all know that being "civil" and being "fake" run hand and hand and are hard to distinguish. Hillary and her husband have tried ruin this man. Have made lies up about him. Have repudiated him constantly. LET THE FAKERY STOP. How can you want change and advocate FAKERY. Hillary Clinton's FAKERY. NO FAKERY ANYMORE!

    OBAMA 08'!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 29, 2008 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  6. josh

    now shes reaching out not him

    January 29, 2008 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  7. Tracy

    I agree with Kevin, shame on CNN. This is not Obama doing nor Hillary's.

    January 29, 2008 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  8. ROB

    I THINK THAT MOMENT FURTHER REINFORCES THE VIEW FROM MANY OF US THAT SENATOR OBAMA, DESPITE HIS CALLS FOR CHANGE AND HIS PERSONAL CHARISMA, IS STILL A PETTY INDIVIDUAL AND LACKS A CERTAIN MATURITY...I REMEMBER THE "HILLARY, YOU'RE LIKABLE ENOUGH" REMARK AND IT STILL RANKLES...IF HE GETS THE NOD I WILL HOLD MY NOSE AND VOTE FOR HIM...

    January 29, 2008 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  9. Rich K

    I simply have to ask myself (and others should too), is this man going to turn his back on Foreign Leaders when the situation is "awkward"? This was a moment for him to show the world that he is a man that respects others opinions and can step UP to a situation whether it is awkward or not.

    January 29, 2008 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  10. jess

    Greg,

    Were you aware that Rezko was a contributor to the Clintons campaign. Did they give their money back to charity??? Check out the picture floating around online.

    But back to the post. I know a lot of woman who found NOWs actions insulting to free choice. They emailed the NYS chapter. Just an idea.

    January 29, 2008 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  11. anonymous

    I was disappointed in Obama's behavior. I think this clearly demonstrates his lack of experience in handling emotionally-charged, confrontational moments like this. However, to be fair...I'm a bit disappointed in Hillary's behavior, too. After all, she could have gone the extra mile and made more of an effort to reach out to Obama despite his having turned his back on her. And had Obama continued ignoring her after that, I think you'd have good reason to believe that he meant to snub her. As it is, I don't believe Obama was even thinking that far ahead. Let's face it...Some people avoid confrontation at all costs. I think Obama may fit into this category. Avoiding wars we never should have started is one thing, but there are times when confrontation IS justified and the only thing an adversary seems to understand. I, for one, want my US president to demonstrate the maturity, character, and wisdom to understand the difference between the two and act accordingly. Obama seems to be lacking in this. And no, I'm not a Hillary supporter. I'm still very much UNDECIDED.

    January 29, 2008 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  12. Alice in Florida

    Didn't his mama teach him any manners?

    January 29, 2008 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  13. Carrie

    I was disappointed at the behavior of Sen Obama. I voted fot the first time for JFK and of course was very impressed with the Kennedy endorsment. And until I saw the interchange or lack of on Obama's part ,I felt I had made up my mind. Wrong!
    I felt very let down at the lack of manners at his turning away . She was the bigger of the two!

    January 29, 2008 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  14. Nicole

    I'm sorry, but I don't see what's graceless or "immature" (please) about this. He was seated next to Kennedy, a longtime Clinton friend and ally who had just endorsed him that morning. A handshake initiated by Obama would have appeared phony, and I'm sure plenty of people would have interpreted it as arrogant. "I'm here with TED." She didn't make a move toward him, which she certainly might have. Should they have just stood there and stared at each other? It was an undeniably awkward moment, and nothing either of them could have reasonably done would have looked great. I think he handled the situation as well as it could be handled, and kudos to Sen. McCaskill as well for trying to smooth out the moment.

    January 29, 2008 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  15. hope

    Give me a break. She reached from behind Barak Obama. She should have acknowledge him.

    January 29, 2008 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  16. David, Charlotte, NC

    This is indicative of what has concerned me from the beginning about Barack Hussein Obama. He will not be a uniter. This action, I am afraid, is representative of how he would treat any policitian or world leader who requires him to account for his policies and actions. Time to wake up Obama supporters.....get your heads out of the clouds and see Obama for what he truly is – an inexperienced politician who lacks the ability to truly lead this country. His actions remind me of George W. Bush: I can do no wrong, therefore I owe noone any courtesies or explanations.

    January 29, 2008 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  17. Darlene Cale

    Will CNN please stop saying that Florida Democrats are in a dispute with the DNC. Florida Democrats are in a dispute with their Republican legislature who once again have managed to discount the Democratic vote.

    January 29, 2008 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  18. Clintonhater

    greg January 29, 2008 12:10 pm ET

    does any one care that obama bought a house for 300k below the market??? How did this happen?? Was the fact that his neighbor RESKO, helped him? wink wink

    Who cares you act like you wouldn't take advatage of friends in high places...so what he beat the market...you hillary supporters are reaching so hard right now...your trying to find any little thing to drum into some negative press ...

    January 29, 2008 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  19. Obama the Demagogue

    That picture tells it all – Obama is a clown.

    January 29, 2008 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  20. D.

    But its fine for Hillary to not give a concession speech and completely blow off his SC win?

    January 29, 2008 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  21. Barbara

    SENATOR CLINTON REMINDS ME OF A SNAKE, YOU HAVE TO PULL ITS TEETH IF YOU WANT IT AS A PET, BECAUSE PEOPLE, YOU CAN'T TAME A SNAKE. I FEEL SOMETHING IS SERIOUSLY WRONG WHEN PEOPLE HAVE SNAKES AS PETS. YOU FEED IT, PET IT, GIVE IT A HOME, AND THE SNAKE WILL STILL BITE YOU. I HATE A FAKE. THAT IS HILLARY, A FAKE, FAKE, FAKE.
    SHE DELIVERATELY MADE THE MOVE SHE MADE, LOUD, PLASTERED SMILE
    ITS HARD FOR OBAMA TO FAKE ANYTHING BECAUSE HE IS HONEST. HILLARY DOESN'T KNOW WHAT THAT WORD MEANS. PEOPLE IN AMERICA CAN'T STAND A HONEST PERSON, THEY BOUNCE ALL OVER A PERSON WHO DARES TO BE HONEST AND TRUE TO HIS/HER CONVICTIONS. THAT IS WHY
    SOAPS FILMS D0 SO WELL, AND ITS SEEMS YOU JUST LOVE TO FIND FAULT
    PLEASE LOOK AT THE GOOD. KEEP IT UP AMERICA, YOU WILL GET WANT YOU REALLY ASK FOR. SOMEONE WHO IS SELF CENTERED, POWER GRABBING AND WILL DESTROY OUR COUNTRY.

    January 29, 2008 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  22. from: Chicago for Mrs Clinton

    GO !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HILLARY 2008 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    You are the best Candidate for Presidency !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 29, 2008 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  23. Jeff

    People saying that Obama is "pouting" are funny. It's a photo taken putting Obama at a downward angle. How many photos exist of Clinton looking manical while laughing? Do those mean that she's really insane or just that it was a lousy photo?

    January 29, 2008 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  24. Nick

    OH PLEASE!!!
    It is DEFINATELY not that serious! Everyone whining and complaining that Barack is a snob and blah blah should really grow up.

    This means nothing

    January 29, 2008 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  25. please think

    I have a question for all of you. I may be wrong, but I have never seen BO place his hand on his heart when all of the other candidates do during the pledge of alligiance. BO What do you really think about this wonderful country? Are you too good to show your love for our country as you think you are too good to offer your hand to a wonderful, intelligent, strong, woman. I think something is not quite right about this man. This may seem small to some of you, but Hilliary has shown us what kind of person she is-LOOK AT HER RECORD! You don't vote for someone because you like him or her you vote for them because they are capable of running the greatest country in the world and make it stronger!!!

    January 29, 2008 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
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