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. sherry

    Hillary had no choice except to shake Mr. Kenndy's hand when he was the one who reached out to her. If Hillary wanted to be gracious in the public's eye, why should she have chosen such a distant seat? If she truly was a friend of Ted Kennedy's, why not sit with him to show that his endorsement was of little concern to her. If someone had attempted to distort my record as she tried to do to Mr. Obama's, I believe she came out lightly with just a "turned back". Her phony smile does not fool everyone. ALL'S FAIR IN LOVE & WAR. A PRESIDENTIAL RACE IS NOT LOVE by any stretch of the imagination. THIS IS POLITICAL WAR when you analyze it.

    The press is making something out of nothing and is sweeping the public into this non-news nonsense. I used to have more respect for CNN and Hillary.
    YOU HAVE MY FULL SUPPORT MR. OBAMA

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

    why are you guys so naive about knowing the truth?Do you want to tell me Obama NEVER threw a sling at Hillary?now that he has potrayed who he really is what do you have to say?Shame on Dick Morris,Ed shurtz and shawn Hannity .Is this the true uniter?

    January 29, 2008 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  3. Garry Lemons, Arkansas

    Okay, NOW maybe the Great Uniter is not so great or humble. A snub is a snub. I mean, geez, she SHOOK the hand of the man who had just endorsed him and he acts this way.
    A turned back is a turned back and I still think his arrogance will be his downfall.

    January 29, 2008 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  4. Ed,FL

    I completely agree with Jon, so far no one knows the truth behind the scenes. At least wait for an explanation before any speculation.

    January 29, 2008 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  5. Rob in Tennessee

    The math is really simple, Democrats. A vote for Clinton in February is a vote for McCain or Romney in November.

    It's not a gender thing. There are women leaders all over this country. My representative in the House is a woman, and I voted to put her there. No one is saying that it's not the time for a woman.

    But it's not the time for that particular woman.

    At least with Obama there is a chance.

    January 29, 2008 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  6. Micahel Guinn, Ventura, CA

    Come on CNN, there's enough drama in this race without you stirring a pot that isn't there. I think you need to give us the facts about the ISSUES. This isn't "Days of our Lives"!

    January 29, 2008 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  7. Nnenna

    Shaking hands or not is not the issue here! The issue is the best of the lot. Clinton is still the best regardless!!

    January 29, 2008 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  8. Sus

    Ha, Obama's a jerk! That's not the kind of detail I was looking for exactly. I have never read a job announcement that says "Looking for a jerk full of hope." Let's get back to running the country and give the keys to Sen. Clinton. Obama is all talk and, apparently, isn't even nice.

    January 29, 2008 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  9. observer...Florida

    LIsten Everyone......Obama did the correct thing!!!!!......Hillary was the one who came across and should have acknowledged Obama first ..not visa versa.Anyway this is much about nothing.

    January 29, 2008 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  10. Robert

    I’m an educator, and I see this kind of behavior all the time… in 2nd Grade!!

    Is this really the kind of “change” we need? Grow up, Obama!

    And what's all this biased reporting from the unbiased media? Had this been one of the Clintons, the media bash would ride it nonstop! I t's unfair how Obama is sooooo highlighted and praised by the unbiased media and Clinton is shot down at every possible opportunity.

    Of course, in the end, we'll eventually know who is the better person for the job. It has to be the one who can back up their stuff with data and not slogans.

    January 29, 2008 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  11. Rubiconski

    Newsflash:

    A senator–McCaskill–has stated to the press that she tapped Obama to ask a question at the same time HRC was tripping over herself to greet TK. Once again the Hillbots trying to create something that is not there. Baffoons. And the media....Well, there are no words to describe my disgust...

    January 29, 2008 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  12. David

    It wasn't appropriate for either Clinton or Obama to avoid one another – how does that foster a changed environment in Washington? What they should have done is to sit next to each other – one of them will win the nomination and one will lose it and it will serve all of us better if the loser is gracious about it. We as voters are faced with a win-win situation – both of them are outstanding candidates, but in the end if they beat each other to a pulp and the Republican nominee wins the White House, the opportunity to make history will be lost to all of us. We need these two stellar leaders to behave themselves, conduct themselves professionally, and to stick to the issues – and may the best man...or woman...win!

    January 29, 2008 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  13. Joe

    The last time we got a candidate calling himself a 'uniter' we got King George.

    Obama is just another politician and not a very good one at that. CNN will start reporting on the REZKO mess very soon. Before Feb. 25th. They are going to create the next drama for ratings. Another 'Shock & Awe".

    Come on folks wake up! Can't you see it? Look at what CNN is calling this critical election; "Ballot Bowl" as if this is just a football game. Notice the graphics ala Madden? Truly disgraceful!!!!!

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

    Now we are getting to know the real Obama. Not a good one, by the way.

    Sorry, Obama. I was undecided; but you just showed me the real you... a very inmature boy.

    January 29, 2008 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  15. Brattleboro, VT

    It looks like the same people are pouring there venom here, some 10 times the others 20 times to make this a big issue: Nina, Mike, Jon...

    Grow up! You don't have anything to say.

    January 29, 2008 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  16. favor

    this IS non-news CAUCASIAN NATIONAL NETWORK!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 29, 2008 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  17. DE

    I am appalled at Obama's actions. It is much the same attitude we saw in the debate when she said that he was very likable, and he had a chance to be a gentleman and respond in kind. Instead he smirked and said, "You are likable enough." Her actions in the photo, and by eyewitness accounts, speak for themselves: She is the one who is reaching across to shake hands and bring people together.

    Obama has lost my vote.

    January 29, 2008 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  18. Sunny

    This is a reflection on Obama's maturity..

    I can imagine him sitting with sullen face in international forums because other countries do not agree with US stance on issues.

    He is certianly not presidential material and will be more like Bush. Certianly not like Ronald reagan who charmed his way with USSR and germany

    US needs some one who can change our image in the world. Not a sullen school boy!!!

    January 29, 2008 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  19. HILARY SUPPORT

    OBAMA SITTING AT THE HEAD OF THE TABLE ACTING LIKE THE WAITER.
    HILARY SHOWED HIM SHE GONNA RUN THAT HOUSE.

    GO HILARY 08

    January 29, 2008 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  20. Alice in Florida

    Somebody please change Baby Barack's diaper for him. Look at the poor baby's face.

    I LOVE this picture!!!!!!!

    Go HILLARY!!!! You already got my vote this morning 🙂

    January 29, 2008 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  21. 20/20 Vision

    The media's understanding of human emotion will eventully decide which way poeple vote. This is just the cat and mouse game that the media plays to keep the American people blind to the fact of what their doing. One week Ms Clinton is the root of all evil the next week Obama's satins son. The media is so back and forth putting spin on everything it's rediculous. This photo was obviously took in the moment ,the camera was problaly on a multi- burst setting taking many pictures at one time catching Sen. Obama in an unfavorable position. I'ts all about controlling the momentum back and forth ,forth and back Obama,Clinton,Cliton,Obama.The longer this plays out the better for the media because without the drama they would'nt have anything to report.

    January 29, 2008 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  22. Kathy, Columbus Ohio

    I continue to say this over and over again Hillary can not win the presidency without the Black vote, the Clinton's could always count on the Black vote.

    And it now appears that Bill has turned off a large portion of the Black voting population. I guess we will be sitting at home in november, think Hill can win without us. If Billary continues to get ignorant in the race ahead we as Blacks can always vote republican to keep her out of the office. The Clinton's think they can smooth this over by november, think again!!!!

    Maybe the hispanics will turn out in force to vote her in and get her elected. Maybe not. That's what happens when you pit one race against another.

    Forget about this picture, would you want to shake the hand of a snake.

    CNN– let's see if you place this on the BLOG!!!

    OBAMA 2008

    January 29, 2008 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  23. nero

    Obama needs to learn some manners,as said before he does not even have experience how to be civil.

    January 29, 2008 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  24. dave

    hi evry body, yes of course thats news to report, we have to see, what and who the person we vote for is, and if he stands with what he say, and obama prooved to be a faulse person.

    January 29, 2008 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  25. Cody

    People like to jump to conclusions about the motives of others. It is easy to draw the easy conclusions, but how often, in reality, do those turn out to be wrong? Almost always. In truth, who knows what it meant? And even if we did know, who can say what the implications are? This is a non-story.

    January 29, 2008 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
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