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. BethanyS

    Do any of you ever wonder why they even bother to report on this type of crap? Do we really care if they didn't greet each other? I don't and if any of you do you're missing the point.

    This is another instance of the media taking over our country and injecting their own silliness into things that don't matter to the American public.

    January 29, 2008 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  2. jeff

    i hope...with the most sincere of hopes...that one day i too will be able to turn my back on hillary clinton.

    Nuh-Nuh-Nuh-no thanks old lady!

    January 29, 2008 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  3. bill

    Big Whoop Dido!!

    I like to see a good competition. It's a part of the process.

    To see a smiling, conciliatory Barack would have turned me off. I don't think we have to worry about Hillary being on the VP Ticket, though.

    January 29, 2008 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  4. Randy

    Lots of folks ragging on Obama- who has been attacked on several occasions by the husband of the senator "he" reportedly snubbed. SHE had to reach across him and two other lawmakers to shake the hand of Kennedy- who extended his to her first. She shook hands with the other two senators but did not reach out to Obama after finishing with Kennedy.
    She did not acknowledge him- he did not acknowledge her. Even up- no one made a face or hit anyone. They are both guilty of letting the political process get too personal- both need to remember how to disagree without being disagreeable.

    January 29, 2008 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  5. Sara - Florida

    Nice spin. Obama was being rude, but of course he would never acknowledge that he would do anything deliberately. His campaign and the media keep spinning everything to his favor, but hopefully the American public will recognize the truth.

    January 29, 2008 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  6. Roy

    Emotional irrational behavior on both their parts. Do we want this kind of poor judgment in the White House? Looks like four or maybe eight more years of Bush-warmed-over. I guess I will apply for my naturalization as a citizen of Mexico now.

    January 29, 2008 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  7. Frank, San Diego

    Fits very well with Obama's thinly veiled threat of last week to withhold his support if Clinton is the eventual nominee. He back tracked quickly. But not before he lost my vote. We expect politicians to be full of themselves. But we expect presidents not to show it like that.

    Contrary to the talk about how "divisive" she is, Hillary Clinton has become an effective senator who is popular with her colleagues on both sides of the isle. The more I see of Senator Obama the more it seems to me that he is unable to work past his resentments or reach out to others on any terms other than his own.

    In short, his candidacy worries me. Not because it is destined to fail, but because there is a chance it could succeed. I'm pretty sure I know what's behind Hillary's smile. What's behind Obama's?

    I had backed Dodd. After he dropped out I was undecided. Until last week. Now I will look at the most recent polls to see whether Edwards or Clinton matches up best against the likely Republicans and vote accordingly.

    January 29, 2008 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  8. veronica lynne

    To the comment from someone up above saying she should have shaken his hand–I saw the entire photo (this is clipped) last night–he is clapping and he TURNED HIS BACK on her when she shook Ted Kennedy's hand.
    A picture speaks a thousand words about him as a man, and I can see that his supporters here are trying to blow this off as nothing.
    But it is something, and they know if Hillary had done this their orders would have been to be all over her for it.
    This was tasteless and rude on Obama's part.
    Hillary has my vote.

    January 29, 2008 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  9. arizona

    I have been undecided between Obama and Hillary and can now say that I support Hillary 100%. We need a leader not a child who doesn't want to play if others are not playing by his rules. Everyone that is jumping to Obama's defense and feel badly that the Clintons are beating up on him, need a reality check. If Obama can't handle debating the issues, he can't handle the most important job in this nation. When his speech about "hope" fails to bring world leaders together, does he whine to the American people that they aren't playing nice?

    Obama is not prepared to be President of the United States.

    January 29, 2008 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  10. tina

    bye bye obama. Hello hillary.Obama acted immaturely.

    January 29, 2008 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  11. Steve, Lyons, CO

    These two idiots better make nice. I see no way for the Dems to win unless they're both on the ticket, in whatever order.

    For all the crap Hillary takes about Bill, some of which she deserves, Obama is beginning to display a disturbing arrogance I find unpleasant.

    January 29, 2008 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  12. Matt

    I think it is his right to not like her and ignore because she has done so much worse. She has been rude and dirty in her campaign the past few weeks. and its on purpose. maybe he's showing her that what she has done is not right. good for him

    January 29, 2008 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  13. Chris

    Wow- the MSM finally ran an anti-Obama story!

    Just another example of how smug and self-righteous Obama is.

    January 29, 2008 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  14. California 4 Hillary

    This is a good news item and has brought out many interesting posts.

    January 29, 2008 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  15. angel

    Here is the full comment from David Axelrod where he points out that Senator Clinton and Obama had greeted each other before.

    No, I don't think he snubbed her at all," Axelrod said. "First of all, they acknowledged each other as they entered the chamber. But I think he knew that Senator Kennedy and Senator Clinton were friends. 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. Unfortunately, the camera caught it in a different way, and so it got interpreted that way. And that's the kind of environment we're in right now. It's a very competitive race, so every little thing is going to be interpreted in that way. But it was really a matter of letting Senator Kennedy have his own conversation, his own greeting with Senator Clinton without him hovering over them."

    Continued Axelrod, "in this environment, every single thing can be – can be inflated and interpreted and will in a political – in a hyper-political light. But it is what I suggested. I think it's understandable that he would not want to stand there with Senator Kennedy as if he were lording it over her. You know, I understand that."

    January 29, 2008 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  16. DD

    He claimed he's an uniter. He even couldn't shake hands with a person within his own party? How could we expect him to reach out to republicans, whites, asians, latinos?

    January 29, 2008 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  17. Marianne, NJ

    It's my birthday tomorrow and I wish Hillary would just disappear forever. Added bonus: take Bill with her. Americans are so sick of the Clintons!

    Democrats have NO chance of winning if Hillary is the nominee. ZERO CHANCE!! Sen. Kennedy is intelligent and wise and figured out early on that despite the GOP's negatives, all of that will be trumped by America's dislike of Hillary. There are legions of Democrats out there prepared to vote for the GOP if Hillary is the nominee. Sad, but very true.

    Sen. Obama for President! Gov. Sebelius for VP! America is ready to turn the page!!

    January 29, 2008 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  18. Jim ( Independent )

    I would hope that America is smart enough to turn there backs on the Clinton's and all the Scandals.

    January 29, 2008 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  19. Khwaty

    A simple picture CONVEYS more WORDS than our tongue and minds can put in a sentence..

    If Obama can't even shook the hand of Senator Clinton, how is he going to UNITE our country? That simple picture says a lot what Obama is all about; his WORDS and ACTION are in COLLISION.

    "ACTION SPEAKS LOUDER THAN WORDS."

    January 29, 2008 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  20. Rachel

    Obammas true self is showing - by their fruits you shall know rhem - He talks a good talk but when he had an opportunity to show he was a uniter - he showed the world what he was made of - to turn away is childish - so when will the press ever see the Real Obamma - will The real Obamma pls stand up -

    again he is all talk - never saw or heard of any important pieces of work while he was in the senate - he is a big time liberal like the democratic party -

    January 29, 2008 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  21. SA

    Frankly, I'm tired of listening to Obam's excuses and whining.
    Now Sen Kennedy wastes no time in becoming Obama's attack dog. Don't tell me that Sen Kennedy is not from the Washington establishment...Barack, no hypocrisy there!!!!!!!!??????
    A PICTURE WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS followed by another excuse from Obama. Need we go into Ted Kennedy's character and his son, Patrick
    C. Kennedy's endorsement is a valuable one, but the other 2 just may backfire.

    January 29, 2008 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  22. Prayu

    Seriously now? A piece about who shook who's hand and who didn't?

    January 29, 2008 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  23. Latina Voter in CA

    HILLARY WILL WIN FLORIDA!

    CNN, be sure to BROADCAST the win!

    Not fair to the American people in FLORIDA to be ignored! As well as in Michigan!

    CNN, please report on how we may raise our voices to get these states back in for delegates! Just ridiculous that they are excluded!!! Help us help them..What/Who/How can we get the states Re-instated?

    January 29, 2008 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  24. Loretta

    I dont like Hillary's outfit. Too red for me.

    That means danger...STAY AWAY from Hill-Bill!

    January 29, 2008 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  25. Lisa

    I beleive Obama will be an excellent president he is the only one talking about change. He has oppose the war from the beginning. He is very intelligent and when you hear him speak it is diffrent from all the others. His words are empowering. I beleive he can bring life to this country. Obama is the only canidates that have brought people together on the same page. I don't believe that you should try to pull someone down to bring your self up. Obama is a man of God. I beleive if we give him an opportunity he will make a change for the better in the United States. None of us are perfect but Jesus. So how could would be so judgmental of others.

    January 29, 2008 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
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