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. bison

    This photo is an opportunity for Hillary Clinton. She could take the lead and show how she wants to only deal with issues , she could come out and explain that she and Obama had spoken in the ante-chamber. She could take the opportunity to explain how the media takes a picture out of context and tries to create a story. She could put this to rest the same way, Obama put the race question surrounding Biden to rest. This was not about anybody snubbing anyone. It was about trying to adopt the appropriate behavior in a difficult situation. Obama had already greeted Clinton. He did not snub and Clinton nor did she snub him. The photo does not tell the entire story. The Clintons and Kennedys are old friends, Obama was trying to give them their space to meet and greet.

    January 29, 2008 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  2. bulo

    This is the guy who wants to sit and talk with our enimies, he cannot even see eye to with his opponet who shares the same things he belives in, who will he be a uniter, how will work with republicans in congress. I donot think he is ready for the presidency. He wants to sit down and talk to President of Iran, how can he do that if he cannot be civil with a fellow sentor. Obama grow up!

    January 29, 2008 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  3. Vancouver-Truth

    Thanks, Jessica. I thought that was interesting, too. It was a "missed" opportunity for Obama. It "saved" Ted Kennedy in the eyes of many dems. As for Hillary, she demonstrated her grace and her ability to "dust herself off and start agian". This is how she has survived the "slings and arrows" of the Repulicans and just one more reason Hillary is the best choice for President.

    January 29, 2008 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  4. Amy, Kazoo

    Clinton gets credit for shaking hands with Kennedy, for even going that far into the area surrounding Obama. She clearly made the first move. He retreated.

    I don't know ladies....typical male behavior, if you ask me. 😉

    January 29, 2008 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  5. B, NYC

    so what!!! who cares
    an effort could have been made by both parties

    January 29, 2008 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  6. miss

    WHY ARE THERE SO MANY RACISTS ON HERE????? THAT'S AMERICA FOR YA

    January 29, 2008 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  7. Jason

    5 mintues that changed the world... according to this article

    January 29, 2008 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  8. Hillary Supporter

    DMC, USA – You said it perfectly!!

    January 29, 2008 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  9. Soren

    She voted for the war.
    She is over 60.
    She has been in Washington forever.
    She is married to someone who lied under oath.
    Nobody really likes her.
    Wake up America!

    January 29, 2008 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  10. Adrian

    How funny to hear the Hillary supporters belittle Obama, the "whiny little jerk." I'm glad that you all have the pulpit to berate this supposed childish behavior.

    If I'm not mistaken, the adolescence has gone both ways. Unfortunately that's the state of American politics; not Obama's MO.

    January 29, 2008 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  11. ohiobrent

    UNITED WE STAND?
    NOT!
    Obama looked childish.......
    Not Presidential.

    January 29, 2008 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  12. Kishore

    You are confusing us. So are you saying we need to find other alternatives to Hillary or Obama? now?

    January 29, 2008 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  13. Amy

    WILL HILLARY HAVE BILL AS HER VP?????? The law allows for it. Was this the Clinton plan all along for a third term for Bill? Remember Bill wanted to change the constitution to allow for a third term.

    January 29, 2008 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  14. California voter

    How can you be a uniter when the going gets tough, if can't even be civil with your Democratic opponent?

    (My first comment apparently was screened out.)

    January 29, 2008 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  15. John

    If anyone was to have had sour grapes during that moment it should have been Clinton(Kennedy endorsed Obama). What a testimony to her candor and professionalism. Once again Obama's naivite shows through. Obama could have seized the moment while all eyes were on them to show the country thet he is mature and experienced enough to be the next president. As small a moment this was, its speaks magnitudes.

    January 29, 2008 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  16. Moderate Liberal

    Wow! It is gratifying to see so many Hillary-supporters coming 'out of the closet'! I wonder if the MSM is aware of how many of us there are out here?

    January 29, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  17. Deborah

    Is this blog for real???!?!? With all that is going in this country and the world – are we really allowing ourselves to be distracted but what the media tells us happened? So they did not speak to each other? So she walked over to speak to Kennedy? One newspaper said she hid in the cloakroom until it was time for her to come out. Does any of this really matter in the grand scheme of things? We are in the midst of a recession, a war in various parts of the world, people are falling into poverty daily, my mother cannot pay for her heat bills every month and you people are concerned about whether he smiled or shook her hand?!?! Never mind she reached ACROSS him to shake Kennedy's hand – we are going to get what we vote for

    January 29, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  18. Tracey

    Good grief! People on here are acting like Obama ignored a handshake that was extended to him directly! Give me a break! There was nothing rude about his actions – Hillary did not try to shake hands with Obama. Obama did not try to talk to Hillary. They are OPPONENTS in what has become a soap-opera of a primary election. Big deal.

    Where is the real news? Isn't there a major primary in a major state today?

    January 29, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  19. John

    OBAMA '08!

    January 29, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  20. SC Voter

    This is another example of Senator Obama snubbing and being dismissive of Senator Clinton (You're likable enough, Hillary), which is arrogant and rude. But it also speaks to his readiness to be President. Having instinct for how to save awkward situations is something a President needs. Behavior like this can literally cause international incidents. He's just not ready.

    January 29, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  21. RF, NJ

    This is just as newsworthy as whatever Paris Hilton is doing.

    January 29, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  22. Shawn Northern NY

    There' s was no need for Hillary to be seated so close to Obama. She was looking for added drama, like she always does and she got it. Obama is above her games and it shows.
    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! GO OBAMA GO !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 29, 2008 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  23. Joe

    CNN: Love how you pick and chose comments. Where is your bias now?

    Obama is tacky. Where is the "uniter" in his actions. Seems the preacher does not practice his sermons. A picture is worth a thousand words but today it seems like 600,000 words. And yet, he went out of his way to shake George Bush's hand. Actions speak louder than words.

    January 29, 2008 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  24. Bob, DC

    So how does anyone know exactly what happened? There was no video. Just this still photo. Sounds like yet another baseless hit-job on Obama by the media and the Clintons. Pathetic. This is why Kennedy, Kerry, Leahy, Dashle and so many others in the Democratic party are turning away from the Clintons.

    January 29, 2008 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  25. KAS

    I'm so glad Senator Obama didn't acknowledge that snake Hillary. Her and her cheating husband need to slither back where they came from.

    OBAMA all the way to president in 2008!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 29, 2008 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
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