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. Mark

    What else is going to be analyzed by the media? The feeding frenzy is maddening, to say the least!

    January 29, 2008 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  2. Hello

    Pieter and Arvind, I agree! If it were Clinton that acting this way it would be a BIG DEAL ! IT WOULD BE ALL OVER THE NEWS and people would be on this message board posting all nasty comments about her.

    I knew all along that Obama was a wolf in sheep's clothing. He talks this fluffy talk but can't walk it (All those PRESENT votes). I knew Sen Clinton was a strong person and a decent person. This picture speaks a THOUSAND words ! Who is the uniter and who is the divider? Who is carrying a grudge.

    The media has been so unfair to Clinton and I can't wait until tonight (Florida Primary, yes and I don't care if no delegates are at stake). We will see Hillary get a BIG win even though none of the candidates campaigned there and only Obama had advertisements running in the state (which is campaigning!).

    New Jersey will get it's turn just like South Carolina. However, the results will be different.

    January 29, 2008 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  3. Rodney Dallas TX

    Obama is such a baby. He'll never win. I can't wait to see him cry when he drops out of the race.

    January 29, 2008 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  4. Billary

    Hey Alice, maybe that will be how he treats foreign leaders if they say something untrue and slanderous about him to furthur their own goals.

    January 29, 2008 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  5. shane

    chicked out are your for real ? He dosent like her so he didnt look at her ! Big deal i dont like her i wouldnt shake her hand ! If he had of talked to her it would have been fake or an agrument i guess! Respect for Obama is high !

    January 29, 2008 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  6. Robin

    Oh, look, another one of those smug "you're likable enough" moments. And this is the guy who is going to unify the world? Gimme a break. JFK, NOT.

    January 29, 2008 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  7. W. Artis, Goldsboro, NC

    Why are we so quick to jump to conclusions? How do we know he didn't speak to Hilliary and she brushed him off. Also, it could have been that they did acknowledged each other and just as it was over, the camera took that shot.

    This just has to stop. Trust me, if she was presidential with as much experience as she claimed she had, then she would not allowed her husband to divide like he did.

    C'mon....I agree with Kevin and TJ, too much is being read into this.

    I'm sure some of you have been in similar situations and things were turned completely around and twisted.

    January 29, 2008 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  8. Vik N

    They had spoken earlier. Obama was giving Hillary a private moment with Teddy. Nice try though.

    January 29, 2008 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  9. lavelle Rochester,ny

    I wouldnt shake her hand either not after she tried to distort and destroy my political career!

    January 29, 2008 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  10. Kurt (Drumheller, AB CANADA)

    Yawn. Next.

    January 29, 2008 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  11. Moses Adelante, NYC

    I am in support of H Clinton and have been for some time. I am tired of this slanted bickering.

    I really do think Obama is an outstanding person.

    They BOTH need to stop acting like desperate third graders. It is kind of pathetic.

    CNN can we get back to the real news, pleeeeeeease?????

    January 29, 2008 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  12. AnaHadWolves

    Guess Barack is out of the running to be Hillary's VEEP, right? >>smirk<<

    January 29, 2008 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  13. suvjunkie

    I agree with most of the comments above; they are adults, too much media interference and manipulation of the facts, yadda, yadda, yadda!! The real issue is the ISSUES and how the American people can expect our elected officials to clean up the mess of the last 20 years.

    January 29, 2008 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  14. Truethis

    She went to shake Ted Kennedy hands not Obama. She knew exactly what she's trying to do . Jessica you are so......messy. You started that mess with Bill Clinton that went on for days with the media.

    January 29, 2008 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  15. Ed

    Not reading too far into it. I'm an independent and have been observing these two campaigns intently. I have seen Obama in action from the very beginning and I must report that his act is nothing but smoke and mirrors. Why? Anything after George W. Bush is going to look great to anyone. The bar has not been set that high. That said, is Obama really about change when he is the first to attack Hillary Clinton at the last debate? That does not seem like "change" to me. Is Obama really about change when he votes "present" over 100 times? Is Obama about change when he takes kickbacks in the form of a $300,000 lower than market price on his house courtesy of his slum-lord friend Tony Rezco? This one in particular is a bit hypocritical considering he is "vowing" to all of us about his disdain about special interest groups. Oh, right, this is not a special interest, but a "personal one". Let us not even mention that he bought part of the adjacent property lot to expand his yard. Who owned that? Rezco. If Obama is really as genuine as people say, despite the fact his mother died of cancer, he was a habitual smoker up to the launch of the campaign. Never mind he has two young daughters. He made that "change" on himself for America!!!

    Honestly, I have watched this guy and he is no different than the rest of them. Why is he so popular? He is very eloquent for one. He can deliver a message unlike anyone else. He is a good motivational speaker. That alone would not make him a good president. I feel deceived by his candidacy. It is a different kind of politics in that he is luring us with his smoothness, much like Bill Clinton did in 1992. The difference being Bill Clinton had many more years as a chief state executive. In his limited time in the Senata, what key piece of legislation has he led?

    Bottom line, if Obama is really about "change" as he says, he would have made it a point to turn around and shake Hillary Clinton's hand. Like they say where I'm from "Being courteous does not preclude your courage"

    January 29, 2008 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  16. Hillary,Ny

    Who does he think he is, I guess he has a germ phobia, or he is intimidated.

    January 29, 2008 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  17. Attn: Jessica Yellin

    STOP IT!!! You go to this function and this is what you come up with???

    Perhaps, you are better suited for the E! Channel with this crap! DO YOUR JOB! You are one of the reasons men think there's no place for women in the corporate world...and yes, I AM A WOMAN. Further than that, I'm a republican, so I don't even care about this democrap soap opera your pushing!!!

    January 29, 2008 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  18. Beth

    The savior won't shake a lady's hand. How un-godlike of him. I can just imagine him with world leaders. He's just confirmed that he's rude and arrogant.

    January 29, 2008 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  19. marge

    Who cares? What confrontation did Hillart face? She knew eyes were on the interaction between she and Kennedy after yestersday's endorsement.
    She wanted to "appear" to have taken the "high" ground,after the snub and rebuke from the Kennedy's.
    I don't think Obama chickened out. I don't think he likes Hillary...Period!

    January 29, 2008 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  20. Kelly

    Milk and cookies at 5, after our naps.

    January 29, 2008 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  21. JC in IL

    Barack took one look at Hillary and his thoughts turned to how his white mother couldn't get health care.

    January 29, 2008 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  22. Glenn, Cary, NC

    Hey, Jessica – why don't you try being a real reporter for a change. I think this is silly and I am a Clinton supporter. It's time for you media types to grow up. You have a professional and a civic responsibility and all you're doing is playing the game "let's you and him fight."

    January 29, 2008 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  23. gairy

    well well,–CNN is being so petty–have they ran out of news? Hillary Clinton is showing that she is civil and can actually face competition–unlike Obama who turns away–is that an indication of the president he would be?

    January 29, 2008 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  24. Kelly

    I don't think CNN is reaching at all. It's natural human behavior to avoid conflict, especially in a social situation where your demanor is under constant scrutiny. Perhaps Barack lives by Thumper's mantra...

    January 29, 2008 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  25. Basajja

    Obama chickened out, it was his time to walk the talk but his knees could not take it......
    Go girl ; it was his time to practice what he preaches and in the heat of the moment his judgement was so poor.....

    Now we can see...
    Who is polarising and who reaches across the isle, who has done that for 20 years.

    I think experience matters, rhetoric is empty talk.

    January 29, 2008 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
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