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. Roger

    It is sometimes in the little things, the glances, the snubs that one's true character is revealed. What I saw last night was a real lady and someone who is not a gentleman. This is the man who will reconcile, who will bring all sides together? Yet he cannot even be cordial to his adversary? Will he do this with world leaders as well? This is personal immaturity that cannot be tolerated at the presidential level. Hillary has what it takes to be a true leader.

    January 29, 2008 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  2. Leilani

    For those who are backing Hilary, the way the Clintons have acted in the last month, reflects on how they will try to run the country. I used to support the Clintons, but I will not vote for Hilary she has deeply disappointed me and so has her husband. If Barack turned his back to her I can understand why, she and her husband has been playing dirty, they have treated Barack as if he is a Republican and not one of there fellow democrats. Bill and Hilary cannot unite the country. I think most of all Barack is hurt by the obscene things that Hilary and Bill have said about him and he should be. I am tired of dirty politics and I am glad that he is trying to stay above all of this craziness. If you all like how Hilary is running her campaign then you are just as bad as she and it makes me worried that there will never be civility in this country, we will always be stuck in the past. If Edwards or Obama do not win the nomination. I will vote for Mc Cain at least he will not disrespect the white house like Bill and Hilary did before. I think after this nomination I might change to a independent. Bill and Hilary have way to much baggage and drama to run this country.

    January 29, 2008 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  3. NickNas

    FINALLY it is mentioned again that there are PAID Bloggers. It really isn't hard to spot them people. Just look for the ones who take EVERY post and turn it into an I told you so moment from people who REALLY don't know ANYTHING but what they read on the net.

    This Blogging thing was a very good Idea but it has just become a tool to instigate people and provides a platform for the pros to manipulate the readers.

    If for ONE second any of you think there are not members of every party and every campaign on ALL of these blogs ( not just CNN) pretending to be this or that to advance their candidate you have been made numb from the last 7 years.

    ( I wonder if this will make it on the board)

    January 29, 2008 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  4. Cosmic Comedy Queen

    Hey there is plenty of folks I do not want to talk to either. Not because I don't like them or anything, it is just I have nothing to say. End of statement.

    January 29, 2008 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  5. get truth guy

    This guy is not a "uniter" by nature, he could not even face his own party member who has different views, it is all hyper by the media that he is the "uniter" and rep a "future changes". All faked illusion, we'd wake up, not fool by the media. He hide too much his dark side, such as his true religion, his true stand on War, his true view of racial and gendar, he doesn't have his own view of economy and medical plan (all copied from Clinton's), he even has most mess up desk he can not manage clean, how can this guy being betrayed as a "future hope"? Unbelivable!

    January 29, 2008 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  6. Matt, Nebraska

    CNN feels so desperate when they don't have a leading story about a democrat. This is truly evidence of that.

    January 29, 2008 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  7. JAM

    If Obama is rude and arrogant now what do you think he will be like if he gets in the White House? And we thought George W. Bush was full of himself! You ain't seen nothing yet!

    January 29, 2008 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  8. Matt

    "Stone Cold" Steve Austin should campaign for Obama, too.

    January 29, 2008 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  9. Nor Yodl

    So much for change, eh? Same old patriarchal nonsense. Jackie O must be rolling in her grave. Had Hillary turned her back on Obama you can bet that not only the media but the spokespersons for the black community would be railing against her as racist. Instead, they will defend his incivility. Take a good look at this picture before you vote for "change."

    January 29, 2008 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  10. Josh

    She was talking to someone else so he moved on. Is he supposed to stand there and wait to shake her hand while she has a conversation with someone else?

    January 29, 2008 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  11. Ruth

    Grace under pressure . . . that's what Hillary embodies. Ready on day 1.

    January 29, 2008 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  12. Mike in FXBG

    What this article fails to point out is Hillary turning her back on the President and stalked away, deliberately turning her back to him once he came down the aisle.

    Hillary may not like George Bush; but she should have the good manners, and the professionlism to respect the president and the Presidency. Once again, this highlights the very contempt that Hillary and Bill have for the office. She is not the person to have in the White House under any circumstances.

    January 29, 2008 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  13. charles

    Boxers shake hands and come out swinging. Immature and rude

    January 29, 2008 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  14. ron bodin

    I am a southerner. I wasn't sure who to support but after seeing Obama's childish display, I am voting for Hillary. Grow up Barack Hussein Obama.

    January 29, 2008 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  15. US Soldier, Econ/Poli Sci Major

    Actually, this was very smart, premeditated political stunt by Sen. Clinton. Sen. Obama was trapped because he wouldn't look good no matter what he did.

    Consider this: You and your buddies are at a bar and a girl walks up who knows one of them just to say hi. You start to say hi and she gives you the brick wall with an upraised hand and a wide-eyed, 'this-guy-is-a-creep' look. Everyone who is watching laughs.

    More or less he did the right thing. Not only would engaging her when she was unwilling to acknowledge him be more submissive than conciliatory, but the only thing that is worse than being frowned at because he ignored her would be getting laughed at because she would have snubbed him.

    Besides that why didn't she engage him? Isn't she just as bad if not worse for getting in his face and not saying hi?

    And anyways, with how 'Billary' Clinton has been lobbing race-bait and other political Molotov cocktails, I wouldn't want to talk with the hag either.

    (FYI: I have always been a huge Bill Clinton fan until very recently. Hillary was my first choice before I read both of Obama's books, so also until recently she had had my full support.)

    January 29, 2008 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  16. Chris

    In response to Kris:

    "Obama supporters, just answer this question: If Hillary would have done this to Obama would you have been all over her for it? Of course you would, and please be honest about it."

    My answer:

    No, because this wouldn't happen in the first place with Obama. Obama is not an opportunist like Hillary striving to overcome rejection.

    Obama can lead and Hillary cannot. That's why I appreciate Obama.

    January 29, 2008 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  17. Joshua

    If you ask me both were being immature, speaking works both way's! Clinton could have easily spoken to Obama, and she chose not to so Obama shouldn't be taking all the blame. Beside's who cares if they don't speak I mean they don't even like each other. I don't think either one of them would make a good president! (absolute power corrupts absolutely) King Bush is an excellent example for that statement!

    January 29, 2008 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  18. cara

    So, just out of curiosity, did Hillary tap his shoulder and extend her hand, or was she content to ignore him as well?

    Pictures are funny– they capture a brief moment in a broader spectrum. I suspect they exchanged words previously, and it would be silly to pretend they were just meeting in that environment for the first time.

    Best of luck to both of them.

    January 29, 2008 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  19. tina

    bye bye obama. Hello hillary.Obama acted immaturely.

    Think preactically people, Do you think americas like the OPEC Countries??They dont..but they have to smile and respesct them for "OIL"

    January 29, 2008 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  20. PW Va

    If it was a snub, Hillary got just what she deserved and should be glad it was just a turned back!!! The nasty politics she and her hubby have been displaying on the campaign trail are beyond the pale.

    January 29, 2008 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  21. CHERYL

    AH YES, THE TRUE COLORS COME OUT. THIS SHOULD WAKE PEOPLE UP TO THE FACT THAT BORACK THINKS HE IS ON THE PLAYGROUND!!!!!!!! THIS PROVES THAT HE IS IMMATURE AND NOT READY TO BE PRESIDENT! PART OF BEING PRESIDENT IS TO BE ABLE TO WORK WITH SOMEONE EVEN IF YOU DO NOT CARE FOR THEM. IT TOOK A LOT OF GUTS ON HILLARY'S PART TO EVEN BE IN THE ROOM AFTER EVERY THING THAT WENT ON AGAINST HER YESTERDAY. BUT SHE DID WHAT A PERSON WITH CHARACTER DOES! BORACK JUST TURNED AWAY. SHAME ON HIM! I THINK SOME MINDS MAY CHANGE NOW. PAY ATTENTION TO CHARACTER PEOPLE ! IS THIS WHAT WE WANT ON IMPORTANT ISSUES? SOMEONE WHO ACTS THIS WAY? HILLARY IS A UNITER!!!!!!!!!!!!! SHE HAS MY VOTE!!!!!!!!!!! HILLARY 2008

    January 29, 2008 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  22. J

    Again, Hillary was fake and Obama was honest about his feelings. Don't know about you guys but I hate it when a person who's been badmouthing you behind your back tries to shake your hand.

    January 29, 2008 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  23. Calvin Preddie

    I think the story and the picture speak for themselves. They speak to Mr. Obama's good judgment. We should note that Mr. Obama knew about Ms. Clinton's vote on the Iraq war in the Senate, when she campaigned for his election to the Senate; and he knew about that vote when he became a Senator and accepted Senator Clinton as his mentor. His opinion on the war in early 2002 was not actually good judgment, because it was formed without any dissemination or analysis of the evidence, since such evidence was not available to him at that time.

    I am reminded of words I read at school many, many years ago, about: "lowliness being young ambition's ladder, whereto the climber upwards turns his face, but once he attains the utmost rung, he then unto the ladder turns his back, scorning the base degrees by which he did ascend". And Mr. Obama has not reached the utmost rung, yet.

    January 29, 2008 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  24. Aidyn

    Obama needs to grow up! How can he unite us if he cannt even act decent towards Hillary Clinton.

    January 29, 2008 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  25. Vera Jones

    CNN...why are you wasting time with this non-sense. You remind me of an office gossip. This is exactly why the YouTube debates were so popular because it showed real people asking real questions instead of the stupid questions reporters ask! The country is in a recession, unemployment is high, our childrens' toys are filled with lead, our China imported food is tainted and the gov't wants us to eat cloned food...yet CNN reports on an "awkward moment" between 2 senators. Priceless!

    January 29, 2008 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
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