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. Alice in Florida

    Actually, in this picture he just looks like maybe he needs his diaper changed.

    January 29, 2008 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  2. stan pitts pa

    To Amy, Kazoo: is it typical female behaviour to be sooo polarizing, divisive and manipulative? to rely soooo heavily on her husband and go about with distortions of the truth? if thats typical female behaviour then America has a problem with HRC! even the president didnt shake her hand, when you could, and actually took a light Jab at her economic policy during his speech! When are you gonna get it? The republicans will never work with HRC to get anything done they stopped her in 93", impeached her husband! nothing will ever get done for you and your family if HRC is the nominee, we need someone with a great record of reaching across party line to get things done for you and your family and obama is the choice!

    January 29, 2008 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  3. Tim

    Why should Obama be a fake and shake Hillary's hand? Because he should not be a fake, he is suppose to be a person that unites. If he really was a uniter he would have let go of differences and notice Hillary. Where is this Unity that he talks about all the time. Is it real. Sure don't look like it is.

    January 29, 2008 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  4. Mike

    I think Obama has been shocked and hurt by the tactics the Clintons have used to try and win the nomination. They were supposed to be friends and teammates, but the Clintons have shown that they don't care if they stab a fellow party member in the back as long as it gets them back into the White House. While I don't think it is politically savvy, I do think it is human. Obama's campaign says that he didn't want to get involved in what was obviously an awkward moment for Kennedy and Clinton since Kennedy had endorsed Obama earlier that day. This seems completely plausible, but I would guess that the truth is more a combination of the two.

    I would also like to condemn Jessica Yellin and CNN's reporting on this incident. If you want to report that Obama and Clinton didn't talk that's fine. But why don't you do your job and investigate the situation and talk to Obama and Clinton and Kennedy and the others who were there instead of simply adding in drama to hype up your story. If we wanted this kind of lazy, juvenile reporting we would go to Fox News.

    January 29, 2008 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  5. ABC = Anybody But Clinton

    Oh yeah........I forgot..........CNN = Clinton News Network
    Figures

    January 29, 2008 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  6. mark

    if he turns his back on someone in his own party, what's to stop him from doing that to international dignitaries? he keeps talking about being opposed to divisive politics, but this is another example of how his arm arm isn't long enough to reach next to him, let alone across the aisle.

    January 29, 2008 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  7. Jessica

    The photographer said that Obama turned away and Obama campaign said it too but they said he did it to avoid an ackward moment. Well he made it worse.
    I am disguisted by this kind of behavior. obama is like the others.

    January 29, 2008 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  8. Thomas

    A man want to become president, he must be a gentleman first. A man want to unite the country, he must unite his colleague first. So everyone can see that talk is talk, but sometime may fooled some people. But voters must know his real color.

    January 29, 2008 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  9. Owen Lewis

    Wow! Forty some odd year old man running for highest and most important job in the US with a mentality and character of a teen-ager. Grow up!

    January 29, 2008 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  10. Mike

    Wow I am literally shocked. Something that isn't 100% pro Obama. I think this is a first. totally funny to hear how a whole new group of Obama supporters are saying this is a non story. I am not saying it is or isn't, but maybe you should think about this a bit when you read all the CNN stories saying how racist the Clintons are, how much they are liars.

    I am just asking you to think a little bit and realize this goes both ways so don't always jump to conclusions.

    January 29, 2008 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  11. JR

    One more prove that he has become this a personal issue and they keep making excuses for all his negative actions instead of facing them. Is that the kind of president we want now?.
    I am not trying to say anything negative about Obama, and just facing the facts.

    January 29, 2008 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  12. Joe

    Obama stood up and gave Bush and enthusiastic standing ovation as he walked into the chamber. Anybody notice that during Obama's standing ovation to Bush that the so-called 'kingmaker' Teddy didn't stand up and or clap? Neither did Hillary; no clap, no smile to welcome King George. The arrogant 'prince' Obama thinks he's got this nomination all sewn up. No handshake to HIllary. All ego, no substance, no real character.

    If he gets the nomination all I have to say again, is KARL ROVE & REZKO and 4 more painful years of Republican rule. If you really believe The Rove Machine wants to run against Hillary then you are truly naive. All the skeletons have been out of the Clinton closet for the last 15 years. Obama is fresh meat for the Republican Machine.

    Stay tuned, its coming Obama supporters. REZKO trial starts on Feb. 25th after Super Tuesday. They already threw Rezko in jail 2 days ago for bail violation. The Chicago Sun Times is printing a new story almost everyday on this sorry mess. Who's gonna flip 1st is the only question now.

    We Dems unfortunately don't know how to win an election. Did the Kerry endorsement from Kennedy help in the 2004 race? Nope. Kerry was a horrible candidate and choice. Once again, Ted Kennedy proved to me his lack of judgement back then & now. Maybe, just like his 'crowned prince' Obama said about him in the not so distant past, "he's too old'.

    January 29, 2008 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  13. NickNas

    WHAT I REALLY THINK CNN &CO SHOULD BE REPORTING ON

    Just like Bush to put up a proposal that includes 50 BILLION for Corporations and claim it will help the PEOPLE. Then Blame the Democrats for slowing down his aid to the " people" because they want to add money that ACTUALLY GOES TO THE PEOPLE!

    Dirty politics as usual.

    Are people REALLY not catching this????

    January 29, 2008 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  14. KimSC

    You can not run on a platform of a "uniter" and turn your back on someone that you will have to work with in the near future to get things done! Obama's "actions" clearly do not match his talk. It was childish and so contridicted the very talk he has been talking to the American people.

    Hillary impressed me, it was not a good day for her yet she dug deep showing courage, strength, and leadership. There was no hiding or turning away, she faced them head on with her hand extended. That is the kind of President I am talking about.

    GO HILLARY!

    January 29, 2008 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  15. MonaP

    Barack Obama – statesman – give me a break. He can't even act civil in the sacred chambers of our government – how would he act in chambers of foreign governments.

    He's a manipulative politican of the old school – change and not the old ways – hey is anyone more the old world politician than Ted Kennedy? Give us a break –

    The media better stop letting Obama have it both ways – the American people are not stupid – we are watching and watching very closely and we don't like an unfair fight.

    January 29, 2008 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  16. Jim Kansas

    After 7 years of Dubya, ya'all expect maturity in a canidate. Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

    January 29, 2008 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  17. Valerie

    NOT newsworthy; they may've had a prior conversation, or one later, or maybe he just felt that she was being fake and he didn't want to acknowledge; who cares?

    January 29, 2008 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  18. Dabney

    The Kennedy's are backing Obama because he is represents the things JFK stood for. What was that? Using the White House as a virtual brothel? With revolving door women coming and going. It is well documented that when Jackie left the White House for a purpose that the elite went to the pool for swimming with the " ladies". Also, JFK had a notorious affair with Marilyn Monroe and no one can dispute it. Then he turned her over to his brother, Bobby. They really had a lot of respect for women, those Kennedy men. Even Old Ted.
    I will proudly vote for Ms. Clinton. Anyone the Kennedy's are for I will be against. Oh, by the way who sent the first advisors to Vietnam? It was JFK....because of him, my junior high school teacher was there and died. He was a young man with a promising future. Please, people use your head. What is it the Kennedy's really want from Obama?

    January 29, 2008 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  19. Jeanne

    Obama's snubbing of seator Clinton[and that's what it was as it could not have been easy for her to walk into that room] shows he does not have the political savvy to be president of the United States. he worries me.

    January 29, 2008 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  20. no name

    to all that had wrote some thing bad about barack and the Clintons you should be ashamed of your self’s if this country wants to go forward in the raciscial diversity in America we should be supporting both candidates and not critizing one for not shaking hands

    January 29, 2008 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  21. Amy, Kazoo

    stan, RELAX. the "typical male behavior" comment was a joke. How about you get your panties out of a bunch, ok?

    January 29, 2008 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  22. votehillary2008

    Very childish. He doesn't know how to play the game of politics. You have to learn to speak to people even if you hate them. Also, Obama is letting Hillary know that she's in his head. Bad move, Obama. Hillary did a great job of showing Ted Kennedy she doesn't care about his endorsement. She is such a tough woman! I can only hope to be like her one day.

    January 29, 2008 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  23. veronica lynne

    NO–the photographer who shot the photo said he was watching and saw Obama turn his back deliberately on her and stay turned away, and he shot the photo then.
    Obama will turn his back on US if he is elected.
    He is arrogant, and it's all about HIM. (just like Bush, maybe even worse).
    America deserves better.
    Thank you CNN for publishing this photo.

    January 29, 2008 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  24. Clinton

    Do you guys honestly believe Clinton is going to give her supporters to Obama if he wins the nomination?

    They will go to her good friend John Mc Cain.

    January 29, 2008 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  25. ABC = Anybody But Clinton

    Hey Alice in FL...........how mature of you........

    January 29, 2008 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
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