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. Donna

    Obama has shown his true colors he is a manchild. If you want to hear preaching, go to church. If you want real change and progress for this country vote Hillary!!!!

    January 29, 2008 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  2. veronica lynne

    Please post my comment.

    To the comment from someone up above saying she should have shaken his hand–I saw the entire photo (this is clipped) last night–he is clapping and he TURNED HIS BACK on her when she shook Ted Kennedy's hand.
    A picture speaks a thousand words about him as a man, and I can see that his supporters here are trying to blow this off as nothing.
    But it is something, and they know if Hillary had done this their orders would have been to be all over her for it.
    This was tasteless and rude on Obama's part.
    Hillary has my vote.

    January 29, 2008 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  3. Nick

    one has to be diplomatic, no matter what the circumstances warrant.

    what about the saying " keep your friends close and your enemies closer"???

    Sadly, Obama is not a uniter as he claims. Hillary had the guts to greet Kennedy. An ordinary person would never do that.

    She just got my vote .Hillary 08.

    January 29, 2008 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  4. Vince Los Angeles, CA

    It is incredibly amusing how many people here would accept the obvious insincerity of a phony smile and handshake as a symbol of readiness to be president. Barack Obama has GOOD REASON to not want to speak to Clinton right now. I would prefer a president that does not pretend to be happy with someone. IT'S LIKE MY MOTHER USED TO SAY....IF YOU DONT' HAVE ANYTHING NICE TO SAY.....DON'T SAY ANYTHING!!!

    January 29, 2008 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  5. Lauretta

    and people want Obama for President?????? Isn't the President supposed to be cordial at all times, smiling no matter what and be gracious?? This is my interpertation of a president. It goes to show us that Obama does not have those qualities but Hilliary does without a doubt as she appeared the gracious one.

    January 29, 2008 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  6. Adam, Los Angeles

    EEESH! Like the Plague!

    January 29, 2008 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  7. jeannette

    Subject: Obama snubbing Hillary

    The "Kennedy Clan" must feel real proud of their endorsement of Obama after witnessing his rude and mean-spirited behavior toward Senator Hillary Clinton last night at the State of the Union Speech. I watched the entire incident and in my opinion – it confirmed what a lot of us have been thinking all along. Obama is far from being ready to become the leader of this great nation. Senator's Clinton's gracious gestures revealed a lot about what kind of person she is. WAKE UP AMERICA!! I think Obama has a chip on his shoulder and this will get bigger as time goes on. We don't need a racist in the White House.

    January 29, 2008 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  8. Christopher

    AND THERE YOU HAVE IT- A MAN WHO SAYS HE WOULD SPEAK TO ANYONE , "FRIEND OR FOE".. He is EXPOSED!!!! ..now... I bet he will extend his had to greet the slum lord friend/ business aquaintance that he represented...UMMM, whom was recently arested. Geesh, Hats off to Hillary who couldnt have possibly be very happy about kenedy endorsing Obama but has the himulity to at least greet him.

    People should be very coy and understand, that thier vote would be wasted on Obama...

    January 29, 2008 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  9. Barb Curbelo cusack

    You mean, RACE under pressure. Obama was discreet & polite to allow Senators Rodham Clinton and Kennedy their moment. Obama & she had already greeted each other. Obama motivates the younger voters like nobody's business because he projects sincerity. The President of the United States ignored Senator Obama’s attempt to respectfully greet him, however. Why didn't that make the news?

    January 29, 2008 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  10. Paola

    Hillary knows how to act graceful under fire!!

    This woman is great!

    January 29, 2008 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  11. Curtis Lund

    She must have been saving all of her energy up for this moment, during the SOTU she looked as if she was sleeping with her eye's open.

    Someone get her a Red Bull

    January 29, 2008 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  12. Steve

    Anybody that thinks Barack should act as if nothing happened is a hypocrite and so would Obama be if he had acted as if nothing had happened. She has viciously attacked him on every side. She owes him an apology before anything should continue.

    January 29, 2008 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  13. Brian

    Why doesn't CNN report on the fact that Obama just WON ANOTHER ENDORSEMENT?! This time from Kathleen Sebelius, Democratic governor of Kansas, who delivered the official Democratic response to Bush's pathetic State of the Union address last night?

    Instead, they're off reporting on ridiculous encounters like this, which have little to no bearing on the actual nomination.

    January 29, 2008 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  14. zman

    Hi CNN please stop diverting voters focus from the real issues. This don't any thing to do with the changes they trying to bring to the contry and problems we need to be solved. I saw president Bush laughing with every body BUT failed to address any of Americas current problem. So Please talk about real issues instead of 2 min moments.

    January 29, 2008 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  15. lol

    Your country is in serious trouble if this is the kind of nonsense your electorate is paying attention to.

    January 29, 2008 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  16. vwcat

    I wish people would just grow up and quit pointing fingers and calling names.
    The media is obviously spinning this as a big thing but, in reality he was just stepping aside to let Kennedy and Clinton speak to one another.
    Amazing how a picture can be misinterpeted and people react so extreme.
    No one was snubbing or doing anything. It was a moment captured and spun for the jollies of the press corps.

    January 29, 2008 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  17. Francis DesMarais

    Unfortunately, we have in this brief moment, a close insight regarding the real personality of Sen. Obama. All is fine with the young Senator, when the ball is in his court and he is in control. It is seemingly difficult for him, however, to keep face in an awkward situation. This is a quality he must have a President. CHANGE is important, but dealing with the present with finess and diplomacy`in every situation – is crucial. This may come with more experience and maturity, something Mr. Obama must cultivate – perhaps after another 8 years.

    F. DesMarais

    January 29, 2008 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  18. carmella

    Senator Clinton has put up with ribald jokes, attacks on her credibility, and a boiler room approach to the issues that this country faces. Her desire to be president is no more self serving or power grabbing than other nominees. I am tired of hearing, because her husband dares to give her what she gave him (loyalty), he is tainting his legacy and that because she accepts his help that somehow she is weak. Senator Clinton has put forth real solutions to the country's problems, knows the nuances of her solutions and she gives details. When most would have given in, she stands to fight for us again and again. That, to me, is inspiration.

    If this woman is not qualified, then, no woman ever will be. She is known all over the world. She has to be twice as good as all the other candidates and she is.

    January 29, 2008 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  19. Rodney Dallas, TX

    I can't believe people are making a big deal about this. CNN give us news not this. This is some high school girl stuff and of course Americans fall for it. Who cares?

    January 29, 2008 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  20. Kiki




    January 29, 2008 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  21. carmi OH

    WOW..........Obama acting like a child ........ and HE wants to be President of OUR country. P L E A S E he needs to grow up.

    January 29, 2008 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  22. colorblind

    ok that was a low blow.... but Hillary is striking out with her own friends, people who know her better then any of us..... and they keep co-signing for Obama... Why?..... because she will not bring about any change what so ever..... no one like her other than those who fear a black president..... im sorry a mixed president... maybe you can vote for his white side if that will make you all feel better..... oh and i didnt know that Obama won the WHITE MEN AND WOMEN VOTE IN SC..... HOW DID THAT HAPPEN.......maybe just maybe he's the best for the job..... the Clintons might be ok to sail with but i wouldn't trust them in the office again .. just ask Mr. Kennedy..... she should feel like crap.... like a ugly step-daughter....

    January 29, 2008 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  23. charlotte

    I am so disappointed in both Clinton & Obama. While they are fighting against each other their opponent is gaining ground. What makes everyone so sure that the democrats have everything so wrapped -up. One thing I do know is that the Republican Party is very cohessive and they are enjoying all of this. Keep up the good work Barack & Hillary, and you will find your bodies back in your seat in the Senate fighting against President McCain, and by the way , I have been a democarat all my life.

    January 29, 2008 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  24. John

    Doesn't this belong in People or the National Enquirer?

    January 29, 2008 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  25. stan pitts pa

    All the people trying to say bad things about obama on this site were never goin to vote for him anyways, so please keep your fake anger to yourself, its natural for human beings to avoid akward moments if they can, i do and does every one else! HRC is a very good actress and we are now used to her from her almost tearful break down in newhampshire! there is no way she was that happy to see kennedy and obama in the first place, obama is for real, some people just dont like fake people, and fake smiles, like HRC! obama 08!

    January 29, 2008 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
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