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. Jessica, arlington, VA

    I think you people are making a huge deal out of nothing. Who knows, maybe his back was turned the entire time and he didn't see her. The media will make a story out of anything!!! Wake up!

    January 29, 2008 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  2. Ward

    Bill Clinton lied to the American people when he said he "did not have sexual relations with that woman".

    Hillary Clinton lied to the Democratic Party when she said she would abide by the agreement to not seek delegates in Florida.

    That's the Clinton character.

    January 29, 2008 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  3. Geri Sacramento

    A group of us were watching the State of the Union Address last night. The camera kept panning to Obama and Kennedy sitting up close and personal. Obama was all a-twitter, giggling, and talking in Kennedy's ear, Kennedy leaned closer to hear him. For a moment there we all thought they might kiss. Couple that with his boorish, immature snub of Senator Clinton, and you've got yourself "Obama Unscripted".

    January 29, 2008 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  4. CHARLAYNE WALDEN

    OBAMA DID THE SAME THING AT THE LAST DEMOCRATIC DEBATE. WHEN HILLARY TURNED TOWARDS HIM TO SHAKE HANDS, HE DELIBERATELY TURNED AWAY. HE ISDEMONSTRABLY A POOR SPORT WHO HOLDS A GRUDGE AND IS UNABLE TO GET OVER IT.NOT GOOD FOR A PRESIDENT.

    January 29, 2008 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  5. ABC = Anybody But Clinton

    EXCUSE ME.........HELLO..........HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF BEING GRACIOUS???? DID IT EVER OCCUR TO YOU THAT MAYBE SENATOR OBAMA WAS ALLOWING SENATOR KENNEDY AND SENATOR CLINTON TO HAVE THEIR OWN MOMENT???????? YOU (CNN, MSNBC, ETC.) ARE PATHETIC!!!! WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO ANALYZE NEXT? THE WAY HILLARY BITES HER NAILS? THE WAY EDWARDS LICKS HIS LIPS? THEY WAY OBAMA COMBS HIS HAIR??????? GET A JOURNALISM DEGREE!!!! THIS IS NOT NEWS!!!!!!!!!!!!! THIS IS NOT NEWS!!!!!!!!!! THIS IS NOT NEWS!!!!!!!!!! THIS IS NOT NEWS!!!!!!!!! THIS IS NOT NEWS!!!!!!!!!!! DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE!!!!!!!!!!!!DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE!!!!!!!!!!!DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE!!!!!!!! DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE!!!!!!!!!

    January 29, 2008 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  6. EJ

    Yes, this is blown WAYYY out of proportion. They took a "FIVE MINUTE" segment and now its news. For the most accurate account, you would have to have a camera on BOTH Senators from the time the exited their vehicles, during the entire "handshake" and greet peroid and afterwards as they were exiting. Who knows, Obama could have said "Hi, how are you?" just before the camera starts rolling. When you are shaking hands with 535 members of Congress, SURE you are getting tapped on your shoulder, having small talk, shaking hands. Obama and Clinton have a debate in a few days so they will shake hands and "greet" each other backstage before the debate in a few days anyway. This is really not news unless you covered BOTH senators for 2 hours and tracked their every move from the vehicle, to their seats, and back to their vehicles. No, this does NOT prove he is immature. and NO, this does not prove that SHE reached out to him. It just proves that the MEDIA took a (FIVE MINUTE) snapshot and says "Awkward Moment."

    January 29, 2008 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  7. Keri-Texas

    The update says this was an awkward situation and what he did was an appropriate sentiment. Well if you're President there will be lots of awkward moments lots of tough decisions. How will he handle those?... turn his back, vote present, leave the decisions up to someone else!!! We need someone willing to step into the middle of it no matter how awkward or difficult.

    January 29, 2008 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  8. colorblind

    THOSE PEOPLE MIGHT SHAKE HER HAND ... BUT WONT VOTE FOR HER...Y.. BECAUSE SHE SUCKS!!!!!!!!

    January 29, 2008 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  9. get truth guy

    Obama supporters, you are so hatred angery people just like your guy who even could not reach his hand to his own party member, don't expect he will be the next president, we will stop your attempts.

    January 29, 2008 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  10. brent

    Go Mitt Romney!!!

    January 29, 2008 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  11. MyFellowAmericans

    I am sad that you choose this to get fired up about with everything else that's happening in the world. However, you're being good little sheep and choosing distraction fed to you by the media rather than focusing on what's really going on. Also, what happened to the idea, "Don't believe everything you read." Anyone can take a picture and write a story about it. Sheesh, come on people. I'm embarrased for you.

    January 29, 2008 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  12. Amy

    The main question is 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 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  13. Karen

    Its a shame that I was an undecided voter. I couldn't make up my mind whether to go with Hillary or Obama. Well, Obama did it for me last night when, yes he did, snub Hillary. I don't want the President of the United States acting like that toward anyone....LET'S HEAR IT FOR HILLARY!

    January 29, 2008 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  14. Joseph

    It took Clinton a lot of guts and fortitude to shake the man who just kicked you to the ground after crowning Obama as the next JFK. Obama was on top of the world and could have afforded to be magnanimous in his victory and condescended to at least acknowledge her presence and greet her. Instead, he showed his true character (and lack of manners and civility) by turning away until she left.

    January 29, 2008 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  15. Lydia

    If all of you would take race, gender and politics out of the equation and think of this as an incident involving two human beings, you would understand how awkward a moment that was for both of them.

    I'm certain Obama did not want to appear to be gloating over the endorsements of the Kennedy family (or at least three of them) so the best thing to do in that type of awkward situation is to be preoccupied. That "saves face" for both people involved.

    In this instance with Obama being preoccupied, it gave Hillary the opportunity to not have to shake the hand of her rival and feign a civility she probably doesn't feel and for Obama, he did not have to make Hillary feel uncomfortable or feel obligated to acknowledge him.

    Under the circumstances, for him to be preoccupied was gracious move in an awkward situation.

    Let's all just enjoy the political process and the fact that we're all interested in politics for a change and stop fueling issues that continue to divide us as a nation.

    January 29, 2008 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  16. Amy, Kazoo

    We ask our kids to "make nice" with their enemies on the playground. We make them face each other, say they're sorry, and be nice. By saying this does not matter, are we really saying we expect more out of our TODDLERS than we do out of grown adults? It's no lie that both Obama and Clinton have contributed to this divide in our party and they've shown they're each insatiably hungry to make history and try to repair our nation. But if we can't even get two adults to face each other, talk about the big pink elephant in the room, say HELLO, then how on earth are we supposed to be filled with hope for the much, much bigger picture here?

    January 29, 2008 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  17. Jon

    No one knows the real truth behind the scenes of these instances; however at all prior debates Obama did greet Clinton and shook hands so I don't see the confusion about this matter.

    January 29, 2008 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  18. concerned citizen

    alot of people is say So WHat...but if Obama claims to be a United he should have the decency to atlease aknowledge Senator Clinton. This means if your against Obama politically watch out because he won't work with you...This is what this picture is interpreting.

    Go Hillary

    Maj. T

    US Marine Corp

    January 29, 2008 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  19. Sarah L, Fayetteville, AR

    You people who think this is a big deal are bloody ridiculous. She didn't approach him either. Stop acting like 8th graders.

    January 29, 2008 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  20. KMD

    I appreciate CNN taking the time to have a poll on how sick people are of having saint Obama crammed down their throats. Maybe CNN will shut up about him now. One could hope that the psychotic Obama supporters will finally get a clue that not everyone buys the spiel their adored one is trying to sell, but they aren't called Obamabots for nothing.

    January 29, 2008 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  21. true colors

    Reminds me of the jerks I work with who won't even say 'Good Morning'

    January 29, 2008 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  22. jj

    What a telling picture! I'm voting for Hillary!

    January 29, 2008 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  23. Houston

    I doubt it if Obama has a different color, all this would be an issue. Seems like people want to convince their already biased brain by raising non-sense topics like "Obama turned his back to Hillary, so he is not fit to be a president". What a ridiculous act of decieving onself.

    January 29, 2008 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  24. AliceInWonderLand

    To this picture you should add the one after the Nevada debate...there Obama with his 'unhappy face' looking away from Clinton + ...

    January 29, 2008 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  25. Scott, Royal Oak, MI

    To Dan, Austin TX: you said: that when Obama lost NV, he "flew home", but that "when Hillary lost Iowa and South Carolina, she gave speaches to her supporters, and she even called Obama personally and gave him congrats".

    Dan, where was Hillary's SPEECH given on the night of the South Carolina caucus? You thought it was SC, didn't you?

    Hillary supporters, please at least be informed before you say things!!

    January 29, 2008 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
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