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. Jeffrey J. Kennedy

    " This was a chance to show civility. " However, Senator Kennedy was gracious enough to show Hillary that there is no hard feelings based on his earlier endorsement of Senator Obama. " The Kennedy's have been long friends with the Clinton's and the family is split as to which candidate they will support. Hence,
    some will support Obama, some will vote for Hillary. Senator Kennedy just wanted to keep the civility in the hallowed chamber last night before the President's address to the nation. Don't read into more than it was. However, was a political trick on Bill and Hillary's part to show Obama is the
    immature, bad guy! that they have been trying to portray with their dirty politics in which Senator Kennedy spoke about yesterday at American University? Think about it? was it the most opportunistic photo op for Hillary? or was it just a gracious Obama acknowledging his other colleague who at that precise moment leaned forward to speak to him.

    Respectfully,

    Jeffrey J. Kennedy
    New Jersey

    January 29, 2008 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  2. Steve Jay

    Its laughable how Obama supporters are brushing this off yet have pulled Hillary (and Bill) up for every little thing. This isas newsworthy as all those 'attacks' the Clintons made against Obama.

    Im sorry but Obama supporters are such hypocrites.

    January 29, 2008 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  3. CB in Texas

    I love to see something negative about Obama and then see all the "claims" of how it was misunderstood by those that believe his cart of horsepoop. This man has no qualifications to be president. This man is BY far NOT a saint. He is an excellent inspirational orator, but that's as far as it goes.

    NObama 08

    January 29, 2008 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  4. Honest Supporter

    I am an Obama supporter who voted for him in Iowa. I request my fellow Obama suppporters not to be hypocrites and try to deny something which is a fact. We should be honest to our conscience and accept a mistake. Any truthful, honest individual knows that it was a snub.

    By trying to give 2 excuses like Axelrod did first and then a different one by McCaskill makes it difficult for me to support my heart, my conscience.

    So I request all honest Obama supporters to accept it as a mistake and look into our conscience.

    January 29, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  5. Isabella

    I am a Hillary supporter and I DON'T CARE ABOUT THE LATEST PICTURE! And neither should the Obama supporter's care about what Bill Clinton does! Duh!

    January 29, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  6. MJG, Castle Rock, CO

    Disclaimer: I am a Republican!!

    This whole Clinton News Network article is quite ridicolous.

    Who knows whether they talked to each other before they entered the room?

    Who knows whether they greeted and smiled to each other before CNN turned the cameras on them?

    CNN, do you expect both Obama and Clinton to sit next to each other in the room?
    You kidding me.

    This article is quite bogus and out of touch.

    The picture above was surely taken out of the situation and therefore not qualified to augment any of the accusations in the article.

    The editor should think before he posts such articles because it conveys a biased message!!!

    January 29, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  7. Sharon

    IS this kindergarten or what?

    After reading about a snub, and read all the media reports about it, I I thought about what probably happened.

    My perception: Senator Obama, as usual, was gracious to Senato Clinton by allowing her time and some privacy with an old friend, Senator Ted Kennedy. It was their first time together since he (Kennedy) endorsed Barak, and Barak gave them a few moments to connect without interfering. It seemed as thought a friend saw the awkwardness of Barak standing alone and tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention in this awkward momment.

    There was no enemy here. Neither Clinton nor Barak.

    So who's the grownup in this situation? I would say it was a draw. Clinton for speaking to Senator Kennedy after losing his support, AND Barak for allowing them a few moments of provacy to reconnect.

    Personaly, I think this was much ado about nothing! The media tries to make a mountain out of NOTHING, as usual! Shame on you all!

    January 29, 2008 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  8. BO -- Not Ready!

    –I need to know that the President of the United States can handle "awkward" moments.
    –I need to know that the Commander in Chief of the United States Military can handle "awkward" moments.
    –There will be plenty of "awkward" moments to come for the President of the United States.
    –Barack Obama is NOT ready to be President of the United States. He will never keep world leaders at the table with his speech of "hope".

    January 29, 2008 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  9. Vince, Arizona

    can you say... "FAKE OUTRAGE"?

    January 29, 2008 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  10. Steve H

    Maybe Barack Obama was engaged in a quiet moment of contemplation, with his surrounding supporters shaking the hand of his adversary might make the highly-touted black freshman just want to disappear for awhile.

    January 29, 2008 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  11. Youth Voter

    Obama was snubbing Hillary in the second pic too. See the gap on the right of Kennedy. That's where he was standing and he moved back to snub Hillary.

    Moreover he is looking past McCaskill's shoulders so McCaskill and Obama told us a lie.

    Sighs I thought Obama was not a liar because he gave a different excuse from what Axelrod said.

    Why did Axelrod and Obama give 2 different excuses for the snub?

    January 29, 2008 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  12. Larry, CA

    Vince,
    I couldn't agree more. Most of the people here that are giving that excuse are hiding the real truth in their heart and they think they are fooling somebody. If they change based on an obviouse smear campange picture I personally wouldn't want their vote for me anyway because it's fake and irresponsible.

    January 29, 2008 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  13. Jane

    This photo speaks volumes about Barack's immaturity. He seems to be frightened of Hillary. How would he do as president if someone disagrees with him?

    January 29, 2008 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  14. Geri Sacramento

    To Up North: You try to diminsh Maxine Waters' endorsement of Hillary by saying Waters was named in 2005[4] and 2006[5] as one of the "most corrupt" members of congress!" Actually, she is a highly respected Congresswoman, as anyone who knows her will testify. This morning, even CNN said she is a highly regarded member of Congress. I dare you to come back on here and tell us exactly WHO named her "most corrupt". And don't think if you name some off-the-wall, hate rag, we'll buy it.

    January 29, 2008 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  15. OBAMA4EVER

    waittttttttttttt hillary rains a smear campaign against obama

    and you people have the audacity to call him OUT FOR THIS.........

    I HOPE ALL OF U ARE TOO YOUNG TO VOTE...THEN AGAIN MOST OF HILLARY'S SUPPORT COMES FROM THE 65+ YEAR OLDS.......SIGH

    January 29, 2008 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  16. Dave

    As of 12:56 pm Mountain time 1,534 comments on possibly the biggest non-story in the history of CNN's ticker. Seriously people, grow up.

    This is evidence that there are at least 1,535 (counting myself) with way to much time on their hands.

    January 29, 2008 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  17. Honest Supporter

    I am an Obama supporter who voted for him in Iowa. I request my fellow Obama suppporters not to be hypocrites and try to deny something which is a fact. We should be honest to our conscience and accept a mistake. Any truthful, honest individual knows that it was a snub.

    By trying to give 2 excuses like Axelrod did first and then a different one by McCaskill makes it difficult for me to support my heart, my conscience.

    So I request all honest Obama supporters to accept it as a mistake and listen to our conscience.

    January 29, 2008 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  18. Daris

    This just goes further to show what American politics has descended to.

    Who CARES whether they shook hands or not? Someone gets a photograph that taken out of context can mean something controversial so all of a sudden this is news???

    The news creates the news – it doesn't REPORT the news. Not anymore.

    January 29, 2008 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  19. Michelle - PA

    We need to look at what is important here...We need a candiate who is ready and able to lead this country. While I am disappointed in what CNN has focused on, it does say something to Obamas person. Whether he did it because he was trying to give her and Kennedy space or he did it because he wanted to avoid an uneasy moment the point is, as President you will face situations such as this and I would rather have someone who can face them head on rather than turn their back.
    I will admit to being a Hillary supporter. I like her stance on issues that are important to our country and she has plans. She just doesn't say I am going to change things she has actual plans and experience to back it up.
    I really have tried to get on the Obama bandwagon, but so far I haven't heard a lot from him about what his plans are, other than he is going to bring change. He reminds me of George Bush. I don't want another 4 years of the same crap.
    We need someone who can dig us out of this mess that George Bush has created.
    Someone mentioned that if Hillary lost and Obama won that everyone who would have voted for Hillary would still vote for Obama, but not the other way around. Well you are wrong. If Obama gets the nomination I will be voting (hopefully) for McCain. I want soemone with know how and expereince. We can't afford for Obahma to learn on the job. I wish he could show me more than pretty talk.

    January 29, 2008 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  20. Definitely Hillary

    Yay! What a happy day to read the good news about Hillary!
    It proves my gut feel that Hillary is indeed MORE LIKABLE than Obama.

    January 29, 2008 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  21. Robert in Texas

    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 how about this "unbiased" media reporting? Did Obama's unprofessional, immature, petty behavior have to be something so blatant to get any attention? I'm still waiting to see Bill "truly" lash out at a reporter. I'm still waiting to see Hillary not demonized by an unbiased media.

    Where's the equity, folks?

    Sometimes, I wonder if the media isn't actually part of the Obama camp with all the coverage and support they're giving him.

    January 29, 2008 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  22. Nik, Houston, TX

    I can't believe I'm reading negative news on Obama, he's touch-free and perfect, according to CNN. That being said, this reaction by Obama, combined with the "You're likable enough, Hillary" comment show that he's too immature to take on challenges and to face adversaries... last time I checked, we need those qualities because the president is always presented with issues he doesn't want to deal with, but has to, and do it gracefully. Obama can't even be courteous with a coleague, what would he do if he's president? Turn his back to problems because they're "awkward"?

    Hillary shows true statesmanship, she's a true leader, I don't care what people say or try to spin it. Even watching the SOTU address, she already looked like a president, making truces with those who oppose her while maintaining strength, dignity, and candor.

    January 29, 2008 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  23. danielo

    Too bad if Hillary felt jilted, spurned or unrecognized! She does this all the time to people she does not respect. A taste of her own medicine.

    I highly doubt Obama turned his back intentionally to hurt her.

    January 29, 2008 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  24. agron

    CNN i am so sorry for your crybabe OBAMA...change-hop–unite...

    Wake up America...

    Great job Hillary ...

    January 29, 2008 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  25. Shane, NY

    First of all she attacked him with false claims. I wouldn't be civil with her. Her and her husband tried to bait Obama with into a debate about race. I have a lot of respect for Clintons but they have used some questionable tactics, as stated by some high ranking Democrats.

    January 29, 2008 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
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