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. Mark, Minneapolis, MN

    It's quite telling actually. Obama is not the man so many of you think he is. I find this whole drama to be a national political version of ALL ABOUT EVE. Bill Clinton as Margo Channing . . . Barack Obama as Eve . . .

    January 29, 2008 12:59 am at 12:59 am |
  2. Kathy

    I agree with Kevin. This isn't exactly news.

    January 29, 2008 12:59 am at 12:59 am |
  3. Jen

    This republican woman is going to vote FOR OBAMA!

    January 29, 2008 01:00 am at 1:00 am |
  4. Vik N

    Here we go, a media fabricated controversy.

    January 29, 2008 01:01 am at 1:01 am |
  5. Lee

    Are we in junior high? This 'article' was unnecessary, and appears to be searching for some type of conflict. So they didn't shake hands, so what. I kind of respect that honesty, I'm sure they're not on friendly terms, so why be fake about it.

    January 29, 2008 01:02 am at 1:02 am |
  6. Patricia

    And we should care about this sophomoric behavior (on both sides) because......???

    January 29, 2008 01:02 am at 1:02 am |
  7. Jane

    That's politics for you.

    January 29, 2008 01:02 am at 1:02 am |
  8. cjonson

    Obama is a Immature jerk

    January 29, 2008 01:03 am at 1:03 am |
  9. PW Va

    I'm sure Senator Obama has more important things on his mind than dealing with the negativity of Hillary.

    January 29, 2008 01:03 am at 1:03 am |
  10. Blue Mouse

    Give them a break. They are under each other's feet all the time - debates, campaign stops.... It's not like they are strangers. And it's not like they threw punches or anything.

    I for one am proud of the Dem candidates. Look at the GOP side, and you see a fight for their party's table scraps. Listen to conservative radio, and they'd rather let a Dem win - "even Hillary," omigosh - to "reboot" the GOP. (Like they have a choice in the matter.) It's all about their party. Meanwhile, the Dems are in a struggle - yes, sometimes ugly and bitter - to find the voice of the nation. No wonder the Dems are drawing record numbers. No wonder the GOP is about to implode.

    I'll take nation over party any day, awkward moments or not.

    January 29, 2008 01:03 am at 1:03 am |
  11. Jason

    And this child wants to be our president?

    January 29, 2008 01:03 am at 1:03 am |
  12. Anonymous

    Grow up CNN!!!For God's sake!!!
    That's the best you could do?? Do you have freshman interns running your new agency?? It sure seem that way.!!!!!!!

    January 29, 2008 01:03 am at 1:03 am |
  13. rjordan

    Obama's lack of graciousness in turning his back to Hillary reminded me of his "you're nice enough, Hillary" remark. His disparagement of her is the very reason I will vote Republican before I will vote for him. He talks a lot about bringing people together, but actions speak louder than words. You would think that after having the "best" day of his campaign and Hillary having had the worst day of hers, he could have at least acknowledged her presence. He did the same thing at the Martin Luther King rally in Columbia, SC when he crossed the stage to speak to John Edwards and totally ignored HIllary, who was sitting next to Edwards. Obama is a wolf in sheep's clothing. I can't have any confidence in a man who can't look his opponent in the eye. What a loser!

    January 29, 2008 01:04 am at 1:04 am |
  14. Patty, somewhere

    Seems at a point where he could have shown the spirit he says he has, he did not need to turn his back. If Clinton can shake the hand and show the proper decorum from one Senator to another even after the events of Kennedy endorsing Obama this morning, Obama showed indeed poor judgement and rudenes, both to the Senator and to the spirit of the chamber itself.
    .

    January 29, 2008 01:05 am at 1:05 am |
  15. jershom

    awaiting moderation??? still????

    January 29, 2008 01:05 am at 1:05 am |
  16. Mike Longview, TX

    Obama is a jerk!

    January 29, 2008 01:06 am at 1:06 am |
  17. Obama is angry

    Obama looks so angry even with all his endorsements he receives. You need to read his book to get the clue.

    Obama does not look presidential in this picture. Besides, Obama does not act like a Christian in this picture. He seems to be full of hatred inside.

    Americans, read between the lines. Obama said on Saturday that this election is about the future and NOT about the past, but surrounded by a senator who has been in senate for about 40 years. Obama reminds me of Church pastors that preach in such a way to drive emotion out of members.

    Obama followers I think, are driven by the same "change" emotion and not policy

    January 29, 2008 01:07 am at 1:07 am |
  18. Cesaria

    Good lord. Hillary will cry again and Big Bill to the rescue. ZZZZzzzz

    January 29, 2008 01:07 am at 1:07 am |
  19. Jackie

    IA kevin, It looked to me Barack was closer to Hill and she ignored him for Teddy..

    January 29, 2008 01:08 am at 1:08 am |
  20. Jean

    No you aren't reading too much into it. FIVE MINUTES! Give me a break!

    January 29, 2008 01:08 am at 1:08 am |
  21. ALM

    Obama and Clinton have called a truce (or so they say)....can the media do the same? This is really getting to be a bit ridiculous. Most of us (the American public) could really care less about this. Perhaps you should spend more of your time focusing on REAL newstories that have a significant impact on the lives of all Americans.

    January 29, 2008 01:09 am at 1:09 am |
  22. An Obama-addict

    nonsense

    January 29, 2008 01:10 am at 1:10 am |
  23. Jordan

    How trivial and immature to even write about something like this. I guess CNN ran out of things to say and decided to demean yourselves with this petty article on Obama and Clinton's perceived behavior. It's the news media that instigates and keeps this nonsense going. The news media is like the kids standing on the side egging on a fight. Yall need to grow-up and start acting more like professional journalists.

    January 29, 2008 01:10 am at 1:10 am |
  24. Anna Ghita

    Wow, what a gentleman... At least Kennedy shook her hand(or he had no choice.)

    January 29, 2008 01:10 am at 1:10 am |
  25. DB

    See, back to being pro Clinton. Weird how that works.

    I think they are stretching it a bit, I doubt Obama spent 5 minutes 'looking at the back of the room'

    January 29, 2008 01:10 am at 1:10 am |
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