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. Ed

    They can shake hands in November after they give the Republicans the presidential victory! Thanks guys!!!!

    January 29, 2008 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  2. me

    It seems Obama supporters forget the words the man preaches "I will sit down with my enemies and resolve our differences, this is "change" we need"!

    How in the world can Obama say this to the world when he turns his back on a fellow Democrat?

    CNN providing this is news, it is a definition of a persons words! It once again leads to what many are questioning and seeking, "actions over words"!

    "Change, Uniter and Hope" are proving to be just words and yet the actions are proving to be negative Sen. Obama, thank you for exposing your real self!

    January 29, 2008 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  3. stan pitts pa

    Cnn = Clinton News Network, thanks for trying to sully the right candidate for the people, yes we want experience, just not the kind HRC is offering, what she offers is a policy of PRETENDER-IN-CHIEF, lies, distortions and manipulation, we know an act when we see one and her false smile to ted kennedy, was very obvious, Americans are smart enough to tell an act from reality and after all the events that occured yesterday it was obvious her smile was a phony, same as her tears in newhampshire, i have greater respect for obama now, at least i know with him, what you see, is what you get,no more lies and no pretense!

    January 29, 2008 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  4. Kitty, Denver, CO.

    This is the most rediculous reporting I have ever seen by CNN.
    It appears that after Obama's good news people want to bring him down. If Hillary can stretch across Obama and shake their hand she could very well extend her hand to him. After this I don't think I will ever watch CNN "The Most Trusted Name In News" again. Happy instigating.

    January 29, 2008 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  5. Austin for Hillary

    Lois Blasenheim:

    Amen to that! That's what I've been saying all along. He's the "Untouchable." However, I'm not worried because I truly believe she will come out a winner. Too bad they do report too about her lead in the Super Tuesday states or the many endorsements she has received since last year! Oh, but that's not newsworthy when it comes to Hillary.

    January 29, 2008 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  6. Yama Rahyar

    I've read this post five times, literally five times, and I still don't understand what you're trying to say happened, or why it's significant enough to warrant a post.

    From what I gather, Clinton or Kennedy or Obama were trying to talk to Kennedy or Obama or Clinton, and Obama or Clinton reached over Kennedy or Obama to shake Obama or Clinton's hand, but someone – Yogi Bear maybe? – turned around and someone else smiled or something.

    CNN, in the sage words of Fox News's Shepherd Smith, you've earned a curb job instead of a block party.

    January 29, 2008 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  7. John

    Poor spoiled little children! How could any intelligent person want either as President??????? They couldn't!!!!!!

    January 29, 2008 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  8. R S

    NOW AT THE END, NBC FINISHED OFF , WITH LETTING HUCKELBEE , NOW WHERE WAS THE REST FOR THERE PRIME TIME THAT LASTED SEVERAL MINUTES. OR ARE WE TO DO WHAT NBC WANTS.

    I DONT THINK SO.

    AS FOR KENNEDY AN , MC'CASKIL , AN OBAMA . SICK , SICK

    WONDER WHAT J F K WOULD THINK . FIRE THEM ALL.

    January 29, 2008 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  9. obaman08

    Some of you people are idiots!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Give me a break! This is not a video, this is a PICTURE that captured one second in time. Who's to say that they did not shake hands before or that he was about to start talking to someone else. Clinton supporters are SO ANGRY at obama's recent comeback that they are trying to come out with anything that will bring Obama down a notch. Get a life and start debating on some real issues. And shame on CNN for instigating this crap.

    January 29, 2008 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  10. Dave

    This is just another example of how the main stream media fails to do its job, which is reporting REAL news and not MAKING news stories where they don't exist. Who gives a crap if Obama didn't talk to her at that specific moment. If they greeted each other earlier, then perhaps they didn't need to acknowledge each other again. Maybe he didn't want to create a situation where one didn't exist by interjecting himself into obvious greetings and introductions between Mrs. Clinton and other representatives. Either way, who cares. If Obama is willing to confront her openly in debate, why would he want to create a potentially awkward moment in a setting where it would not be appropriate. I don't see a problem here. I'm a conservative, and I kind of like Obama. I disagree with him on virtually all his policies and stances on issues, but he seems like a fairly genuine person. Hillary on the other hand, scares me because I believe she is someone who will do anything to gain power. That is not the type of person we want as a gov't representatives or as our President.

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

    And why is this newsworthy?

    January 29, 2008 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  12. Dabney

    Why does my comment need moderation? I did not put anything in it that is not true. What is false?

    January 29, 2008 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  13. adiv07

    Go Obama!!!!!!I think u guys are taking this for.............it doesnt make any sens ....why does he have to....why didnt she go shake his hands?

    Go Obama!!! you rule!!!!!!!!!

    January 29, 2008 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  14. EWOL

    OBAMA wake up brother take heed to the writings on the wall, leave that hypocrital
    society and go home too Kenya where they really need you!! America is a society
    that was established by W.A.S.P for W.A.S.P! Let them have their darling Hillary, because the chickens have come home too roost! Don't fall prey to the old divide and conquer tactic, get out of Sodom and Gomorrah as fast as you can!

    January 29, 2008 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  15. Mary, Buffalo, NY

    John in GA.,

    Oh yeah, I'm sure that this was the moment you made your decision... You had your mind up before this. This is just another news article that CNN is hoping will get them more hits and traffic.

    Of course Clinton supporters are going to throw a spin on this. If it was me in Obama's shoes, I'd of done the same thing out of respect for Mrs. Clinton...

    I'm sick of the Hillary supporters throwing a spin on everything!

    January 29, 2008 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  16. Mike

    I think you'll notice, all you members of the Clinton army, that it does not say anywhere that Sen. Clinton extended her hand towards Sen. Obama.

    True... there is mean spirited bickering between the two, which they have both promised to step away from... I think this moment is a simple case of an awkward day, and an awkward moment. I don't see a problem, and this certainly does not make either look more immature than the other.

    Further, I really wish the people who choose to comment on here would learn how to spell correctly. At least reread your posts before you post them.

    January 29, 2008 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  17. Vudeshie

    Obama seemed such a boor..... remember the moment in the last debate before the NH primary when he said "Hillary's likeable enough"... I really think that if he does not have the civil graces or courtesy to people who are competing with him..it reflects on his character... the funny thing is that these seem to come out when we are least expecting it and seem to reflect his core beign...ie. when he is not putting on a show on stage or at a television event. It would be interesting to speak to people who have gone against Obama in the past to see how he behaves when the guard is not up. I think that this may be instructive to see.. Maybe the Chicago press and tv stations may have some interesting things they can dig up....given his long history and experience is primarily in that location..

    For disclosure purposes, I am not a US resident and citizen and I am supporting Hillary purely because of her abilties, experience and poise. And I am not a woman so this is not a gender based decision and nor am I white so its not a race based decision. Wake up America...!

    January 29, 2008 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  18. Bryce

    So Kiki –
    Does that make you a paid Obama blogger? Maybe people just want to express thier opinions because the Media sure haas misrepresented a whole lot in the past month or so.

    How much do you earn by trolling this blog for Obama?

    January 29, 2008 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  19. Houston

    Clint,
    so this is what it takes to get your vote – a non sense freezed picture. Thanks to voters like you, we will lead another 4 years of depression.

    January 29, 2008 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  20. Erica, Atlanta

    Who cares!!!!! Geesh!

    January 29, 2008 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  21. Nora

    First of all, I HOPE this is the actual story. Is there video of this to show that Obama DIDN'T extend his hand (or that., perhaps, he DID and was then ignored by Hillary)? In fairness' sake, I ask this.

    In any event, no matter what the source of the anger is, grownups have to behave like grownups towards each other. What kind of politician is Obama going to be? Sorry, wearing his heart on his sleeve this way doesn't encourage me. Obama is going to be expected to deal with the likes of the heads of state in Venezuela, Korea – not to mention leaders of countries where "G" stands for genocide. In order to begin a dialogue, he will have to extend his hand. Sorry, for all her foibles, Hillary isn't worse than the aforementioned. Bad move, Obama.

    IF he did not extend his hand and actually turned his back, he played his hand terribly. I'm not comfortable with this. Americans have no time for a "learning curve". We're in a jam as a country – in terms of our civil rights, how we're perceived by our global roomates, our economy, etc. etc. – and and need someone who knows the ropes.

    January 29, 2008 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  22. Quentin

    Five American soldiers lost their lives yesterday in Iraq.

    The President gave his State of the Union Address.

    And everyone is complaining about a PHOTO!!!

    Honestly people, isn't everyone acting a bit childish here.

    We don't know what happened before this picture was taken. We don't know what happened after this picture was taken. And we all know that a picture can be interpreted many diffrent ways.

    There is REAL NEWS!!! Happening and we're all fighting over this? C'mon people, get a clue. The media likes to stir this stuff up and it's sad that many people are taking the bait. For those of you against Barack, all this did was give you a reason to voice the displeasure you already had with him.

    Now who's being childish?

    January 29, 2008 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  23. stan pitts pa

    CNN= CLINTON NEWS NETWORK, HRC = PRETENDER-IN-CHIEF!

    January 29, 2008 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  24. Washington Democrat

    This picture reveals so much! Honestly everyone- the headlines today state that Romney and McCain accuse each other of being liberal- that is the worst label in their minds and the best way to unite their Republican base. So why oh why does anyone believe that a Republican would ever vote for Obama in the general?!!!
    Obama, Clinton, Edwards- they all share the same Democratic/liberal
    platform. The day that I heard Bill Bennett and Brit Hume compliment Obama
    is the day that I realized that an Obama ticket is the Republican's best
    chance for the White House. Everyone really needs to step away from the
    rhetoric and THINK.

    January 29, 2008 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  25. Ray

    Grow Up Obama!!! Just because you issue a statement dosen't mean its true. Just like half the lies you have tried to cover, this one happened in front of the world!!

    Hillary 08!!

    January 29, 2008 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
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