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. kay

    p.s. should have said Thursday night.
    States don't make the decision. It's delegates. And thats another convoluted topic.

    January 29, 2008 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  2. Steph

    Longbench, you seem to be rather judgemental, yourself. Are you trying to be a positive example?

    January 29, 2008 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  3. Seth, South Beach, FL

    Barack Obama truly showed his colours yesterday. I'm African American and do remember the good deeds the Clinton's did for the minority groups (Latinos and African Americans), a proven track that no other candidate can measure up to.

    Hillary took Barack to school.

    January 29, 2008 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  4. rev03

    Just one more act of immaturity.
    Obama can't be trusted. Anyone who can't look someone in the eye and looks down while answering a question is a complete lier in my book.
    Also, you really want a President whos own spouse didn't want him to run. What a diplomate for our county Obama's Wife will make.
    Go Hillary

    January 29, 2008 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  5. charles

    Boxers shake hands go to their corners then come out swinging. It's called respect. Obama supporters are having a hard time with this one!!

    January 29, 2008 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  6. James, PA

    This is the example of the candidate for change in Washington politics? If the situation were reversed, you know that the race baiters in the Obama campaign would have called Hillary's back turning as racist. Obama's action was pathetic, sexist, and dumb! All of which do not present qualities in a President that I would vote for.

    CONGRATULATONS OBAMA! Your actions are making everyone UNITE behind Hillary! Too bad the words you gave today don't match up with your actions yesterday. Now who's playing fast and loose with the truth Barak? Thanks for helping make my decision for 2008!

    GO HILLARY 2008!

    January 29, 2008 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  7. stan pitts pa

    YEAH HE SNUBBED HER AND?

    January 29, 2008 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  8. docrock,tx

    Can anyone say "timeout"?After posting on this page faithfully for four months,I must say this is nuts.But cool!!!If this is what it takes to bring the electorate,then so be it.When Biden,Richardson and Dodd were running,this page had tepid response.Kudos to CNN for recognizing a moment.Each side will play it to it's advantage,but the truth is somewhere in between.Remember Hsu?Remember Rezco?This may be the first election decided by the Vice-Presidential choice ever.Way to go CNN!!!!!!!!!!Let the comments fly!Just remember,your vote may choose a President!

    January 29, 2008 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  9. Michiel

    While I am not a Hillary supporter, I have to say Barack Obama behaved very badly last night. We have had 7 years of a destructive, petulant, self-centered child in the White House, do we really want another? I am a supporter of the forgotten candidate, John Edwards, however, should Hillary get the nomination, I will support her. On the other hand, should it be Obama, I will definitely have to think about it.

    January 29, 2008 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  10. hieu

    Obama is not what he say he is.......

    January 29, 2008 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  11. LUPITA

    Well, here my take on it all. If I were him I would shook her hands and here is why: even when you dislike your opponent, you got to show them that you are not evading them. My mama said never ever give your enemy your back. It will be easier for him/ her to take your by surprise.

    January 29, 2008 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
  12. Mae

    BO did not tell the truth about this issue and neither did the female senator that was also on the airplane when he was interviewed regarding this. He said that the senator had asked him something and he was responding, if you look at the video her eyes are closed and she is clapping her hands as he turns to her away from Senator Clinton. So you were caught at a bad moment own it, don't start lying to the American people already. He also stated in the video that the democratic primary in Florida is a "beauty contestant, I wonder if that is the same as a "fairy tale" for the people in Florida. I am not against BO but he should be more manly and honest about his actions.

    January 29, 2008 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  13. oregon

    So an akward moment between politicians is a "revelation" for the supporters of Ms. Clinton. This is so staggeringly naive and frankly stupid that I truly fear for my country.

    Its sad to see that vehement hatred so permeates our society.

    January 29, 2008 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  14. Debra

    If you don't believe this kind of stuff is important, just look at all the folks on this page who have said, "Thanks for changing my mind, I'm voting for Hillary now."

    Call it petty, call it frivolous, but this is a very close race. Any bit of information we get about the character of our candidates matters.

    For what it's worth, there's no way this was just an "awkward moment." Obama couldn't have NOT seen his opponent coming. I don't know what he thinks about her as a person but chances are he felt sorry for her losing the Kennedy endorsement and/or didn't want to look like he was gloating. Yet another sign of his immaturity.

    January 29, 2008 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  15. Kate

    HERE ARE THE ABSOLUTE FACTS… I WAS THERE ON THE FLOOR LAST EVENING AND I SAW WITH MY OWN EYES AS OBAMA DELIBERATELY TURNED AWAY FROM SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON WHEN SHE POLITELY GREETED SENATOR KENNEDY AND WAS ABOUT TO OFFER HER GREETINGS TO SENATOR OBAMA.

    I DISCUSSED THIS WITH MY COLLEAGUES WHO ALSO NOTICED IT AS WE WERE PURPOSELY WATCHING SENATOR CLINTON'S MOVEMENTS AS SHE ENTERED THE ROOM TO SEE IF WHETHER OR NOT SHE WOULD SIT CLOSELY TO SENATOR OBAMA.

    LATER, ONE OF MY COLLEAGUES WHO SAW THE OBAMA SNUB AGAINST CLINTON PHONED ONE OF THE MAJOR NEWS CABLE NETWORKS AND REPORTED WHAT HE SAW, AFTER WHICH TIME THE INCIDENT WAS REPORTED ON THE AIR AND WHICH WAS FOLLOWED BY AT LEAST ONE PHOTOGRAPH OF THE INCIDENT.

    DRAW YOUR OWN CONCLUSIONS, BUT I SAW THE SNUB PERSONALLY, AS DID MANY OTHERS. THE FACT THAT OBAMA HAS REPEATEDLY DENIED THIS INCIDENT, AND WENT SO FAR AS TO SAY THAT HE WAS DISTRACTED BY A QUESTION FROM ANOTHER SENATOR STANDING BESIDE HIM, IS A COMPLETE FALSEHOOD.

    January 29, 2008 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  16. Angela

    Obama acted like a childish baby. and not a good stateman at all.
    And what about the "change" he keeps spouting??? He acted like a spiteful adolescent kid.
    Yesh, that's who you want running this country. Not!!!!
    He and his fortune cookie message. """Change""" Give me a break.
    A pictures means a thousand words.

    HILLARY JUST TOOK FLORIDA BY A LANDSLIDE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    AND THE VOTES WILL BE COUNTED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    OH, SNAPP!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 29, 2008 11:22 pm at 11:22 pm |
  17. JB from AZ

    Is this really the issue? We as a country are trying to weigh out the issues that are important to us as citizens of the United States. It should not matter if they are black or white, female or male, more than that who cares if they say hi to each other. I certainly do not. The camara took a picture and because of the way it looks the media blows it up, and the american people has once again taken it out of context. What should matter is how they represent what we want for our country. A co-worker told me that she hates politics, and I did not understand why someone would not take an interest in their own country. Now I do. I was going to vote, and have always encouraged my children to do so. This has changed my mind. Instead of focusing on what is really important we are more concerned about who shakes who's hand. We had 8 years of hell, and it looks like we will have at least 4 more no matter who is president. Thanks CNN for another vital, important, and fulfilling story. If this is what our future reporters are being taught, they are poor excuse for teachers.

    January 30, 2008 12:28 am at 12:28 am |
  18. Fem4Hillary

    I don't know if anyone would agree but in one of the pictures Obama looks pretty upset (enraged w/b appropiate) with T. K.?? Maybe he did not get the Memo about "only able to unify with those who I approve" Teddy careful.. I would make sure it's okay with Mr. Unifier before shaking someone hands….LOL!!

    Thank you Hillary for caring about and listening to what the PEOPLE think in Florida & Michigan! Even though the delegates were taken from them…..

    Go Hillary!

    January 30, 2008 01:45 am at 1:45 am |
  19. allen

    I have no problem with Obama spuning Mrs. Clinton. HOWEVER... don't LIE about it! Are we expected to be that dumb?

    "I was turning away because [Sen.] Claire [McCaskill] asked me a question as Sen. [Ted] Kennedy was reaching for her."

    Wrong. McCaskill did not say a word to you until you were already knee deep in looking at the back of the room, and Mr. Kennedy was about all out of conversation topics with Mrs. Clinton. Just come out and say you didn't feel like shaking her hand. I'd have much more respect for you.

    January 30, 2008 07:02 am at 7:02 am |
  20. Tired

    Grow up all of you. Your acting just as childish as you are saying Obama was. There are a lot bigger issues than whether or not he went out of his way to say "hi" to a person who has been attacking his character everyday. You just want to find reasons to go after Obama, and lets be honest here, we all know why that is.

    January 30, 2008 07:19 am at 7:19 am |
  21. Ibra

    This is one of the most ignorant media hypes I've seen since Al Sharpton came to Louisiana for the "Jena 6" trial. Even if he did intentionally snub her – SO? Does it really deserve all this press? She could have made the same attempt to shake his hand as everyone thinks he should have made. The two of them are competing for leadership of the country not playing out a scene on Geral Hospital. Will we next be saying Brady & Manning are childish if they don't sit down for a spot of tea before the Superbowl?

    January 30, 2008 08:11 am at 8:11 am |
  22. Sarah

    You can make excuses for Obama all you want, but the bottom line is when you are President of The United States you can't snub anyone like he did Hillary. President Bush and the Speaker of The House don't like each other. But when they are in the same room, they treat each other with respect and shake hands and talk. Thats what a President is suppose to do. If Obama can't even look at her, then what's they say to all of us what he will do in the future as President. I lost all respect for him when he did this. His problem is he can dish it out but he can't take it. when it's thrown his way. SO inmature of him He is no JFK thats for sure.

    January 30, 2008 08:24 am at 8:24 am |
  23. Andy

    Who cares. It sounds like kindergarten or high school. When they run together as Pres and VP nobody will remember this incident. I don't care how they treat each other, they are both competitive and both want to win this campaign. What will he or she do as President, how will my life be better, how will the country be better. How will young people be able to afford college, buy a house, raise a family? What will they do to make the country better and help families who have a parent working two jobs in order to pay the bills and put food on the table? What will they do to make the economy better and lower the deficit, cut costs, save tax payers money, use tax payer's money wisely? I laugh at the comments about lacking experience, I thought this country was started by inventors, farmers, business men etc. They got more done in five years then Congress has achieved in my life time. They forget who they serve and who pushes the buttons on election day. Let's add 'None of the Above" on the voting machines, get rid of the electoral college and put a recall system in place, let them get paid only when they show up to the capital building, cancel their life time paycheck and benefits. We will really start to see progress.

    January 30, 2008 08:54 am at 8:54 am |
  24. KC, Missouri

    FemaleVoter January 29, 2008 11:01 am ET

    What a picture. Clinton could be friendly and shake hands with Kennedy, but Obama turned away? He had a perfect chance to be gracious and blew it. I'm for her. She's the one who can be the real uniter.
    -----------------------------------–

    "She's the one who can be the real uniter." Ha! Ha! ... yeah ? Then why would even I as a Democrat rather vote for a Republican than for her/them ? It would be sad if the Billaries make it with their dirty campaign – but it will be a feast to see Mrs. "35 years of experience" being shredded by the Republicans

    January 30, 2008 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  25. Tony

    IF HILLARY HAD BEEN THE ONE TO TURN AWAY FROM OBAMA EVERY NEWSPAPER IN THE COUNTRY WOULD HAVE A HEADLINE SCREAMING:

    "HILLARY CLINTON – RACIST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

    OBAMA ISN'T EVEN AS CONVINCING A LIAR AS I ORIGINALLY THOUGHT!

    January 30, 2008 08:59 am at 8:59 am |
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