January 29th, 2008
10:30 AM ET
15 years ago

State of the Union: Awkward moment

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2008/images/01/28/art.clintonobama.ap.jpg caption="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. Lawrence

    Thanks for pointing this little vignette out. I agree that it's a real shame, and telling about both candidates. On the other hand, we also have to realize that emotions are high, they are both exhausted and stressed, and after all they are human beings. How many times have we had disagreements or unpleasant situations with co-workers or neighbors or family members or what have you, where we have avoided them rather than make the effort to be gracious and forgive?

    The other way to look at it is that, if they had pretended to be "civil" to one another, when they probably are each others' least favorite person in the world right now, it might have revealed an even more innate duplicity of character than we would want in a presidential candidate.

    Overall, I think it's a shame that neither one of them was big enough to seize the moment and be gracious; but at the same time, I think it's probably perfectly natural and shouldn't be held too much against either one.

    Obama supporter in NJ

    January 29, 2008 03:29 am at 3:29 am |
  2. Larry

    Kevin, I do think you are right. Even the smallest of incidents become magnified beyond reality. It seems as if the media instigates these slips, slides or blunders.

    January 29, 2008 03:30 am at 3:30 am |
  3. Vincent

    Actions speak louder than words, that picture sure does....Whos the grown up now......I thought he was going on the whole platform of a uniter...

    January 29, 2008 03:31 am at 3:31 am |
  4. Pat

    The facts do speak for themselves. It is an akward moment for Barack as he doesn't appear to be able to play the camera game. As a presidential candidate, you have to be aware of all of the cameras at every moment.
    Have to realize it's not always what you say, sometimes its what you do.

    Pictures says a 1000 words.


    January 29, 2008 03:32 am at 3:32 am |
  5. Frank

    How is this a story?

    This is exactly the kind of tabloid nonsense that keeps a lot of people out of touch with the real issues facing our country. If the media would focus more on policy plans and campaign themes than on horse race gossip, we would have a much more civilized election.

    Instead of reporting on things that matter, everybody's trying to play Freud.

    January 29, 2008 03:33 am at 3:33 am |
  6. shaun

    Watch cnn spin this crap. It will be all over the news tommorrow...
    This is the type of senseless press that destroys american politics..

    January 29, 2008 03:34 am at 3:34 am |
  7. Dave Sheehan

    Just another putdown by CNN, keep it up it will bite you.

    In that picture I saw Senator Clinton as a true PEACE maker, one who knows how to work with others. She is STRONG and a leader.

    January 29, 2008 03:43 am at 3:43 am |
  8. Margot

    shows that Obama lacks maturity... a great opportunity to act like a grown up and he failed. a pic speaks a thousand words.. No way in hell that Obama did not know Hillary was there. instead of being civil he sulks away?????????

    and you want this guy for prez? please, he's a kid who lacks substance (present votes), lacks maturity and lacks some basic social graces....

    January 29, 2008 03:44 am at 3:44 am |
  9. alan


    Sometimes I like the media is analyizing things a bit more but this is a too much....

    guys guys guys get a life

    OBAMA 08

    January 29, 2008 03:46 am at 3:46 am |
  10. Marla K. H.

    is this news? bid deal.

    January 29, 2008 03:48 am at 3:48 am |
  11. Wise

    "Neither acknowledged the other all" – good observation!

    Maybe, someone was still 'under the weather', as a result of "too much belittling" from one camp – that characterised the last primary.

    Just a thought.

    January 29, 2008 03:53 am at 3:53 am |
  12. sue

    i think b.o. was being a jerk, or at least very childish. i hope more of his immaturity and meanspiritedness come out in time for people to see it before we vote. GO HILLARY!

    January 29, 2008 03:55 am at 3:55 am |
  13. a little sad

    Obama is so skilled at diploamcy that he turned around to face the back of the room to avoid talking to Clinton?

    And this is the guy who wants to go hat in hand to every world leader who asks for his time?

    Not with my country – Come back when you grow up.

    January 29, 2008 04:00 am at 4:00 am |
  14. Mr Real

    If Obama offered a fake smile and handshake to Clinton, he'd be just another phony that DC has enough of already. Stay real Barack!

    January 29, 2008 04:01 am at 4:01 am |
  15. harry

    shame on clinton

    January 29, 2008 04:03 am at 4:03 am |
  16. mrgavel

    I am willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that most Democratic voters don't really care if they shook hands at the State of the Union speech. What we do care about are solutions to the war in Iraq, health care, foreclosure crisis, and jobs. It is fascinating that you care whether they shook hands. It says a lot more about you than it does about them.

    January 29, 2008 04:05 am at 4:05 am |
  17. Skip

    It would've been nice for Obama & Hillary to be civil, but... as far as gaffes go, that's a rather small one.

    January 29, 2008 04:07 am at 4:07 am |
  18. prince thompson

    America give Obama the power to lead the nation he is gods gift to America and Americas gift to the world at large it is fair thing to do make him the he will takes us there and go youtube.com/reggae for obama

    January 29, 2008 04:08 am at 4:08 am |
  19. joseph


    Hillary still has double-digit lead in California according to latest CNN poll.

    Nope... the headline is about McCain (on CNN's home page)

    Good News for Clinton is explained away (this was taken before the SC primary).

    Is there a test for fairness in reporting? Who's the editorin-chief at CNN? The Obama campaign manager?

    Remember, a woman president is as historic as having a black president. Just because the news organization does not like one, it doesn't mean that it should make editorial decisions based on its taste.

    What has divided America seems to be the news organizations... maybe CNN learned from FOX that it's the only way to get viewership up. Good News about Obama drives up viewership, and so does anti-Clinton commentary.

    January 29, 2008 04:09 am at 4:09 am |
  20. David

    I would ask why she did not greet him irst though that is not to say what Obama did was right but I think I know how he must be feeling after all the mud that has been thrown and is still been thrown at him by the Clintons. Well thi just goes to show that whoever comes out as the dem candidate a lot of work will have to be done to get everybody on board to supporting him/her, there is a big crack in the party and the centre may not hold for long. I hope all this will be properly managed for the sake of America and its people. One last thing SHAME on the CLINTONS for having brought things to this point, shame on them.

    January 29, 2008 04:11 am at 4:11 am |
  21. Faiza

    I agree with Kevin, you are reading a bit much into it. It's not like they are best friends or anything so not talking to each other kind of makes sense to me.

    Also, too I am surprised they actually showed up b/c they have missed a quite a few votes being on the campaign trail.

    January 29, 2008 04:13 am at 4:13 am |
  22. True Blue

    Senator Obama was rude and immature.
    He's my Senator and for many reasons I will vote for Senator Clinton.

    The contradictions in the Obama Camp drown out the message.

    Bad mouthing older blacks for being "sell-outs"
    For calling the leaders of civil rights movements "old School".

    But the 76 Year old "lion" of the Senate, they embrace?

    You need look no further than the O-campaign for contradiction !

    How convienient to "exclude" the very people who have made Senator Obamas Presidential run possible.

    To exclude people who have made HIS inclusion possible is noting short of blatant hypocrisy and contradiction.

    Unity....Thru Division?
    Experience thru....hope?
    Endorsements thru hypocrisy?

    Real leadership has a name, and a voice in...
    Senator Clinton !

    Clinton 08 !

    January 29, 2008 04:14 am at 4:14 am |
  23. hcollins

    This little bit of petty behavior didn't say much for Obama, the guy who claims he wants to be a uniter and to end the politics of divisiveness. He looked rather childish and small. If he can't reach his hand across a 14" space to make amends to a rival, how's he gonna be when the kitchen gets really hot?

    Nor am I terribly moved by the Kennedy endorsement. JFK was a long time ago when people didn't know so much about their presidents as we do today. In fact, I'd go so far as to say "John Kennedy was no John Kennedy." And Teddy? Um not exactly a well-loved figure among the independent and cross-over vote.

    In fact I'm torn as to which of Obama's endorsements will ultimately be more damaging to his changes in a general election: John Kerry or Ted Kennedy?

    What are the Democrats thinking? Where's Ralph Nader this year?

    January 29, 2008 04:27 am at 4:27 am |
  24. JStarr

    Dumb move- he should take the high road every single opportunity- the more public the opportunity, the higher the road he should take.

    January 29, 2008 04:35 am at 4:35 am |
  25. Gus, Virginia

    It goes to prove that Obama is not above politics as usual. Infact, he is just as political and petty as the rest of them. I am yet to hear one new idea that is above and beyond what we are used to from him. He is a handsome orator who enjoys a free ride from the media. Many Americans opposed the war from the start, including some who had to vote for it. The moment of truth for obama was when the vote to declare the Iranian qud forces a terrorist group. This time he was in the senate and could do something about it. He could go to the floor and speak his opposition to the vote and vote accordingly. He chose to sit on the sidelines. No show. No vote. And he has the audacity to speak his opposition to the vote after its all said and done? If this man becomes the nominee, I can only imagine what the republicans will do with him.

    January 29, 2008 04:36 am at 4:36 am |
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