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. Patrick Niba

    If Hilary is so brave why didn't she go up and greet obama face to face. All you hillary supporters who say she is the macture one. If she was that macture she would have tap him in the back and said "hey buddy, how is it going". Now that i will call macture. You clinton supporters are just plain silly.

    January 29, 2008 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  2. art

    Hillary kindly greets Kennedy EVEN after he endorsed Obama over her. That is beign a good sport. She is in good spirits but look at how childish, rude even, Obama is. Not just the moment but for 5 whole minutes he turned his back, not just to make way, not it ignore. If he wins the democratic primary I will vote McCain. And CNN, please be a little bit more unbiased. Handing accusations to Bill and then when he responds with an intelligent reponse of 5 minutes, just take a 5 second shot and cal him 'angry' and 'aggressive'. Bill, stop taking the bait.

    January 29, 2008 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  3. Tired of Billary

    Always smiling, and always in the picture, how quaint!

    January 29, 2008 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  4. Ivan, Chicago, Illinois

    Obama had the opportunity to show he could walk the walk instead of just talk the talk by shaking Hillary's hand, but Obama failed the test and turned his back on her.

    January 29, 2008 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  5. Jessica, Rolling Meadows, IL

    Remove your emotions and use your brain. Do really think that Barrack Obama can lead this country? My opinion he is to slow to speak and comes across to me as being unready. He has yet to hold my attention long enough to get how he is going to make a difference. Exactly what is his plan for the health Crisis in America? How is he going to bring jobs back into America? He has touched on the subject but that's all he has done. Unfortunately he's not the whole package and he will do no worst or better than the current "C: average BUSH that is in the White House now.

    January 29, 2008 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  6. pete

    How many of you are paid bloggers of the obama camp. If he can't go well with his own party, how can he unit everybody. The 'change' candidate should be reaching out to Hillary first, to prove he is the change candidate.

    January 29, 2008 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  7. joe

    Poor form, CNN. Inventing little non-stories like this to stir controversy? Don't you have any real journalism to attend to?

    January 29, 2008 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  8. Mino AZ


    Pictures speak louder than words. The person who took that picture actually stated that he saw Sen. Obama turns his back on Sen. Clinton on the split second he aimed his camera. It was Sen. Kennedy's hand reaching out for Sen. Clinton. Feeling guilty Sen. Kennedy ?? JFK Jr. must be turning on his ocean grave. I for one must wonder (wishful thinking) if JFK Jr. would be alive today . . . .

    I don't trust Sen. Obama, he seems cold and aloof most of the time. Although the situation was awkward, it speaks volumes for Sen. Obama's character. And as far as Sen. Clinton, she didn't tried to distort and/or destroy his career. She was responding to his personal attacks. I always knew who I was voting for . . .HRC !

    We'll see how is going to turn out in Arizona and California. I can hardly wait.

    January 29, 2008 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  9. Taj

    This really bothers me. First, because of the fact CNN has covered "news" that, in the grand scheme of things, is irrelevant. It seems that more news casts are over-analyzing, and taking out of text, events that shouldn't be given the time of day. How quickly we forget that Senator Kennedy, this same day, endorsed Obama, an endorsement Mrs. Clinton would have loved to have. Instead it went to Obama. Obama, in my opinion, was simply giving Senator Kennedy and Mrs. Clinton a private moment due to the events that transpired hours earlier.

    Secondly, it is amazing how many people in this blog, watching the news, reading the newspapers could be so easily mislead instead of taking a moment, using their common sense and coming up with a conclusion for themselves. Instead, a "news" story is printed and persons jump on the bandwagon, for better or for worse.

    Think intellegently and come up with you own conclusions. Don't let the media make YOUR decisions.

    January 29, 2008 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  10. Nita

    I agree with the other comments too much is being read into each situation that arises and as for the individual who is upset about the black voters you seem to be offended because they did not vote the way you wanted well they have the right to choose this is America.
    The right to vote is a privilege that you or no one else can take away from African-Americans who struggled years to have a voice and choose who they want to lead this country into a new era is their right just like it is yours. Wake up you can no longer dictate the choices that are made by anyone.

    January 29, 2008 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  11. lkj

    i am obama supporter but he should have acknowledged her

    January 29, 2008 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  12. Joe

    Obama's immaturity and insecurity showed at that moment. He walked into the chamber last as if he was going to deliver the State of The Union address. High fives and hugs all around. He even got all giddy when President Bush walked in and actually gave Bush a standing ovation with a big, big smile across his face. He was clapping for the man that has basically destroyed this nation and even tried to shake the Presidents hand as Bush was making his way down the aisle. Pathetic. When it came time to show himself as the bigger person and shake Hillary Clinton's hand, he turned away like a little school boy. All ego, no substance, no real character. Period. Two words, "REZKO & KARL ROVE. Stay tuned, it's coming.

    January 29, 2008 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  13. Suz D

    This is for "The Future" – I am black AND a woman but that is NOT why I am going to vote for someone in this election...

    I want a President who means what they say, has opinions I agree with and believe in their power to get it done...

    Our political system is not perfect but PLEASE do not make this about race!

    January 29, 2008 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  14. Obama do something to stop genocide in Kenya

    Obama does not even make a comment on the genocide happening in his father's home country.....I hope atleast some candiadte makes an effort to stop the voilence and genocide in Kenya ..PLEASEEEEEEEEEEE

    January 29, 2008 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  15. Dekonti

    This is so unfortunate. Jessica Yellin is offering a second hand view of what may have and could have occurred last night. How sure are we this account is true? Again, people are rendering judgement on one picture. Go to other nedia outlets and what pictures they're showing.

    January 29, 2008 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  16. Scott, Royal Oak, MI

    Ellery: who said he's running as "an african american candidate"? I think he wants to be president based on the content of his character and capabilities, not his heritage.

    January 29, 2008 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  17. Jojo

    If Hillary is elected, she is going to do the same thing she did for NY state = NOTHING!

    January 29, 2008 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  18. Jane


    Your trule color is showing and it is not pleasant (you are a closet racist)
    We voted for Obama in Iowa – OVERWHELMINGLY, by over 92%.
    Why cant' 80% of blacks in S.C. vote for him too?
    What , you think they are not equally smart?

    January 29, 2008 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  19. USW

    Even if Obama had attempted to engage in a conversation with Hillary she would have probably turned her back as well. I agree with Kat "[they] don't care for each other." This is just one instance, but look back at Hillary's actions in the previous months, does mature come to mind... I think not.

    January 29, 2008 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  20. Bryce

    After finding out I can't trust any news source to tell me how other dems REALLY feel I started asking around myself. Met about 50 or so Dems over the past week.... ALL of them but 3 were for HRC. The ones that weren't tried to compare Obama to JFK as thier reasoning. When asked about HRC they said they "HATED!" her... When asked why they said "because she lies" when asked if thought that Barack Obama lied, they said yes.


    Something isn't right here.

    January 29, 2008 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  21. Texan for Obama

    A missed opportunity? Maybe...unfortunately it is something we will never know...this is a great example of how one incident can be misinterpreted, misconstrued, and blown way out of proportion. Depending on your perspective, who really snubbed who? Let's move on and talk about what really matters...who can create change in Washington, and get this country back on track, and all of us working together to keep America moving forward, and caring for each other. Whether you are Democrat, Republican or Independent, we are all still one nation, and we need to start acting like it.

    January 29, 2008 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  22. EAJ

    I don't understand why many of the comments here say Obama is a sore loser? What is it that he has lost? If I'm reading the election results correctly he has done quite well so far and received many quality endorsements. Well I'm sorry not true, he may still be upset by not receiving the high quality endorsement of BET founder Bob Johnson.

    January 29, 2008 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  23. Your Daddy

    Geez, let's not overanalize this. So Obama doesn't like the sight of Billary.

    Who does?

    January 29, 2008 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  24. Viola

    They both behaved like 2 year olds....so stop with the Hillary was gracious nonsense....

    January 29, 2008 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  25. fedup

    ellery he has talked about kenya he has talked to both leaders there and the un sec gerneral anout kemya read up before you shoot off !

    January 29, 2008 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
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