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. Illinois Indie Democrat

    Wow from the looks of this blog I should say to Democrats welcome to 1980. This is starting to become a feud between Jimmy Carter (Hillary) and Ted Kennedy (Barack) so let me think what happened in 1980 when the Democrats were beating each other up and the vote was suppressed by all of this internal fighting the evils of racism and perils of sexism and this is the party of fairness and togetherness HA HA HA lol lol lol btw...people don't read to much into things you might blow out the reminder of the good side of your brain that you use typing out your hatred against one another on here!!!

    January 29, 2008 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  2. Ian

    who cares.
    this isn't about sex, or race.
    it's about the policies and positions that are going to effect your lives for the next 4 years.

    who cares if Obama didn't shake Hillary's hand?
    who cares if he turned away?

    will all the personal attacks that Hilary and Bill have been throwing at him, there's no doubt that Obama would be angry.

    January 29, 2008 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  3. Anonymous

    And this man wants to be the leader of our nation? He can't speak to a fellow democrat, yet he wants to reach out to our enemies?

    January 29, 2008 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  4. Suz D

    While everyone loves the Kennedy "mystique" – what have they done in politics the last...jeez, how long has it been?!

    Seriously, we need to stop talking about feelings, high school behaviour and all the rest and FOCUS ON THE ISSUES

    January 29, 2008 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  5. Johnson Blah

    Wow must be a really really slow news day to see how people react to one another. Let their words do the talking for them not their body actions.

    January 29, 2008 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  6. Dekonti

    Brian Nancoo – Trinidad, I think you're going too hard on the mix drinks. This is a non issue. Jessica Yellin is only trying to get back in the good books of the Clintons after Bill yelled at her. If she denied coverage of Hillary by the campaign, CNN will have no need to keep her on the "beat". People wake up to reality, this is not about Obama or Hillary, it is about Jessica Yelllin trying to save her job...ACCESS IS POWER IN Washington,DC. Wake up people!

    As John Mayer said in one of his songs and I paraphrase..When you trust the televison, what you get is what you got, because they own the information they can bend it all they want.

    January 29, 2008 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  7. Tina, IL

    Obama is on fire! 6 months ago nobody would have guessed he would be this close to the presidency. What does he have to cry about? I'm sure that he was being polite by letting Kennedy and Clinton share a private moment. Since she made no attempt to greet him, then why should he? After one of the debates I saw Barack reach out to greet her, and she obviously snubbed him. I wonder why CNN didn't do a story on that?

    January 29, 2008 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  8. Chad Butler

    And this in news why??????????? please cnn, stop insulting our intelligence.

    January 29, 2008 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  9. MC, in MD

    Stillvotingmyway it depends on how you look at the situation. 25% of white people in SC voted for Barack.....so that leaves about 75% of them WHO DID NOT vote for him. No one is calling THOSE people racists. And again I have to go back to IOWA where an overwhelming amount of White people voted for Obama.

    In New Hampshire Hillary had a large number of the women voters. Voters who may identify with her becasue they are females and they no doubt would like to see her win. No one is screaming that those women are SEXIST. So I don't think it is fair to single out the Blacks in SC as racist. It is human nature to identify with people who are like us. Couple that with his message and that is how he won SC.

    January 29, 2008 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  10. Bukky

    stillvotingmyway January 29, 2008 8:31 am ET

    It is such a shame that this has all become about race.While the whites were able to cross the race and gender lines,eighty percent….EIGHTY PERCENT of the black vote stayed with their race.Don't you dare say it's not about race , or at least fifty percent would have crossed the line.But thats okay,wait until November ,all fifteen percent of you"it's not about race black voters"!!

    75% of white people voted for Clinton or Edwards. Are you calling them rascist? is that a Race Issue? You are making a race issue where there is non.

    60% of women also voted for Obama, are you saying that these women are traitors to there gender?


    January 29, 2008 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  11. Clintonhater

    All these Hilary Clinton Supports make me sick...I've read nothing but venom and hate nothing of any substance in any of your replies...you sound like females who got stood up at prom....this picture means nothing and who cares Hilary Clinton is a cold hearted bytch...I wouldn't shake her hand either...you wanna invoke race in this contest and try and divide as many people as you can just to get your windbag of a husband another 4 years....DO NOT BELIEVE THE HYPE HILLARY CLINTON IS NOT A STRONG WOMEN CHECK FOR BILL BEHIND THE CURTAIN OF THE TALKING HEAD HILLARY CLINTON IS A JOKE...

    Obama 08

    January 29, 2008 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  12. streetjustiz

    Common CNN, this is what i expect to find on Fox News! You guys are now reporting like some second rate gossip magazine. Keep it up and you'll see how your viewers will shift their focus to MSNBC. "SHAME ON YOU CNN".

    January 29, 2008 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  13. Imran

    CNN is truely...
    Clinton News Network.

    A good "HIT-JOB".

    January 29, 2008 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  14. fedup


    January 29, 2008 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  15. Mike

    The "private moment" explanation of Obama's people doesn't wash. There are no private moments in that situation. Did you see everyone hand-clasping, back patting, elbow-touching each other? It was a typical Senatorial love-fest and Obama wasn't feeling the love.

    He's not a "people person" and I have no idea how he intends to be a uniter and a bringer of hope.

    The Kennedy endorsement ceremony just seemed weird. I was around in Kennedy's day, and the feeling is not the same here. Plus I don't think it's going to help Obama with the independent and cross-over votes he needs to win a general election. He'll have to distance himself from the Kennedys once nominated.

    January 29, 2008 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  16. Cigarette Break

    awww, come on... cut him some slack... He was probably just thinking about taking a cigarette break before Bush started yabbering on about cowboy politics. I'm sure he didn't even notice Hillary standing there. You know how nic fits can hit ya!

    January 29, 2008 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  17. checkthisout

    Kennedy who was seated to the Left of Obama reached out across Obama to shake Hillary's hand.
    Obama prefered to look away and sulk.

    Did it cross his mind last night that he fought for and got an endorsement from the same old same old?
    This guy has been in Washington DC for over 3 DECADES !!!
    He sure will be required to pay back some day !!!

    January 29, 2008 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  18. James B.

    Please readers stop repeating rumors about Obama not pledging the flag. Do a fact check occasionally, just so you don't appear to be so ignorant of the truth. Yes, the polls show that the more educated a person, the more likely they are to support Obama. But you can do the Hillary supporters a favor, by at least pretending you know what the facts are, so the polls won't start showing that the majority of her supporters are boobs. I imagine many of you feel as the Clintons do that she is 'entitled' to the nomination after planning on it for so long. And it is clear that Bill has spent a lot of energy trying to get himself back into the limelight of the White House. We have an opportunity to really start to turn this ship around so that the people start to actually matter, but I understand that many people are petrified of change and feel more comfortable with "the devil they know' rather than ever considering taking a chance on a better way for us all.

    January 29, 2008 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  19. Bukky

    I dont think he did anything wrong EVEN if she intentionally ignored her. She has been spewing vile things at the man and insulting his characater. I think if there is one thing this shows us its that OBAMA IS NOT A PHONY. She's been nothing but down right mean/rude/and ruthless with her campaign and he's spent 3of the past 6 days trying not to call her and ther husband the liar that they are. WHY SHOULD HE SMILE IN HER FACE AND SHAKE HER HAND. She's phony and he's not playing her game...

    January 29, 2008 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  20. Ellery

    This is similar to "you are likeable enough, Hillary" snub by Obama in Nevada debates...he should learn some manners.
    And he runs as an african american candiadte but does not say a word about whats happenning in Kenya..people are getting slaughtered in his father's home country...does he not even care to alteast make a comment to stop the genocide there??? He seems to be interested in only one thing..getting elelcted at any cost...do anything for it!!!!
    And for the record, I am a black male....if it matters.

    January 29, 2008 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  21. Mia, Stafford, VA

    Ike, people like you and others would do well to get your facts straight. Right after the Kenyan elections Senator Obama spoke with Secretary of State Rice asking what he could do – it's called protocol. She agreed that it would be okay to make a statement on local radio there and that's what was done.

    Barack unlike Edwards and HRC does not have to broadcast everyone he talks to or everything he does to get kudos.

    January 29, 2008 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  22. Scott, Royal Oak, MI

    Ginny CA: do you really think you know enough about Obama as a person to make those kind of judgments?

    Would you prefer he stand there grinning at Hillary while she shook hands with her old friend who has now turned to support Obama? I think if he did that, you'd call him smug and arrogant. I think he was trying to avoid the awkwardness of the situation. The Clintons wanted the Kennedy endorsement BADLY.

    January 29, 2008 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  23. Doris Slayton

    Why doesn't someone talk about the immaturty of Obama.If Clinton had turned her head instead of acknowledging Obama you Media poeple would be villifing her.Fair is fair.

    January 29, 2008 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  24. Mara

    Thanks Jessica Yellin. Though I can't say I agree with these kind of stories (even though I read them like I'm rubber-necking a car accident), at least this shows that you are looking at this election more objectively than I previously thought (given the Bill Clinton "incident"). And that is an absolutely fascinating photograph.

    January 29, 2008 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  25. Ken

    After the racial crap that Bill Clinton stirred up ( shows you how DESPERATE the CLINTONS are) I would'ent talk to her either. They are dirt bags and will do anything to win. Why waste your time. I see the DNC is allowing Hillary to break rules and do what she darn well pleases. Why have rules if they won't enforce them? They say she is going to run down to Florida tonight to CLAIM that she won the State. (You have to laugh at her desperation) She broke HER PLEDGE and the rules of the DNC. LOOSERS NEVER WIN !

    January 29, 2008 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
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