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. CHINO

    Mannnn........ Obama really disappoint me with this photo, I thought he is a uniter, but he really just talk no action and couldn't even face Hillary eventhough this presidential campaign turns bitter with both on them. I really lost my respect to Obama too late he lost my vote his true color just came out. Unlike Hillary that eventhough Ted Kennedy endorses Obama, still Hillary came across to shake hands with Sen. Ted Kennedy now that is a true sportmanship and a true person that would face a rival despite of their inappropriate actions to damage Hillaries campaign to endorse Obama. How rude of you Mr. Senator Obama after all of those endorsement you thought you are all the way and best of them all just disapponting photo. Body language is strong and it carries your identity just by your move without saying anything you really need to grow-up and mature to be the next president of this country you're a snobb person, you shoul'd have atleast shake hands with Hillary at least to show your respect to her eventho you don't like her. How can you run this country? how can you unite everyone when you yourself don't even have a unity among your rivals? how can you face domestic policy and foreign policy when you become a president? are you just going to snobb those problems that occupy you? are you just going to snobb those communist countries and face not with a resolution? You made me make my mind eventho ow many endorses you get and how change you will handle and promise to this country, but just by this one single photo really shows the entire you as a whole person to represent the USA can't even unite us. Shame of you.
    i change my vote to Hillarry before it's not too late yet.....
    You just lost my vote and respect....

    CHINO of Orlando, Florida U.S.A.

    January 29, 2008 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  2. Jeanne Van Halteren

    Obama's snubbing of Senator Clinton{ and that's what it was as it could not have been easy for her to walk into that room} shows he does not have the political savvy to be president of the United States. He worries me.

    January 29, 2008 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  3. me

    Watching this happen live last night in part and reading the actions of what fully happened just adds to the decline of the myth people have about Sen. Obama! A "uniter" would have been cordial at least, turning ones back is grade school yard childishness not becoming of an adult, let alone a candidate for President! This is a defining moment again of a Prophets words verses a self-PROFITS actions!

    Since the NH debates with his "likeable enough" statement to this action, combined with exposures over Obama's relationship with slumlord Rezko, Obama's slow acting on the Clinton MKL statement finally coming out stating "there was no racial meaning in her words" a week after it was made, capitalizing on the political fury it was generating, fuelled by Obama's campaign with the media!

    The moments presented define Statesmanship vs childishness! Congrats to Hillory for showing Statesmanship and exposing the kind of person Sen. Obama is once again! Hope Sen. Kennedy is proud of his endorsee he praised so highly today as the kind of person America needs right now! Obviously Kennedy likes a person with the personality of Bush in the White House!

    January 29, 2008 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  4. J . D. Noman

    These two are asking us to elect them the leader of the free world. They both act like grade school students running in a popularity contest. Forget simple civility – a leader has to look intently for the best in everyone and bring it out. There is no room for pettiness – especially when the consequences could be dire (past behavior is a pretty good indicator for the future)
    I'm ashamed of both of them – neither deserves to be elected

    January 29, 2008 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  5. Texans for Hillary

    I think this makes Obama look really small. I am sure that he might be a good guy. He is just too immature, and inexperienced to be our president. od knows we already have an inexperienced and immature man in the White House. I certainly don't want another, anytime in the near future.

    January 29, 2008 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  6. Shrum

    Look at the fake smile on Billary Clinton's face. Fake Fake Fake.

    I hope you Obama Haters know you and BIG BUTT are chasing away potential voters who see you as taking up for race-baiting. Billary knows what she is doing.



    January 29, 2008 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  7. zika

    please , leave this silly, unimportant, childish issues out of your reporting and focus on what really matters to all Amaricans. For God's sake, someone could be losing their home or a job to the troubled economy, while you are worried about how Obama and Clinton are smiling or not smiling at eachother.
    Please get back to the issues.


    January 29, 2008 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  8. Truth


    Who cares if they shake hands come NOV they will be fighting the same battles trying to pushed their agenda with the other democrates. As a voter I don't give a crap if they speak at a state of union address. How many of you work for a company but don't particular like your boss but you still kiss his behind by speaking to him, but when his/her back his turn you talk about him like a dog. If Obama is harboring some ill feeling toward Hillary, I don't know if he is or isn't but once again it's demonstates Obama isn't phony like Hillary!!!!!

    Unlike Hillary who will shake your hand smile in your face then stab you in the back.

    The only mistake Obama made was turning his back he should have continue to face her, to watch his back from being shanked.

    January 29, 2008 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  9. commonsensepolitics

    My goodness. The cackling hyena-speak is circulating today, with the media playing into "I am the victim" answer that the Clintons have to everything, huh?

    Obama is known and admired to be a decent fellow, and even Republicans who have worked with him say the same. If he had butted in and been effusive etc. while Ted Kennnedy was trying to make peace with Hillary, we may have seen headlines "Obama Rubs It In to Hillary."


    January 29, 2008 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  10. from: Chicago for Mrs Clinton

    Hillary is the most experienced Candidate and have done a lot for USA citizens already!!!!!!
    My son, 27 yrs old voted for Hillary and my vote will go to Hillary !!!!!
    She is the only one, who has serious concern about the Country and People of the USA !!!!!! (Health Care, Education, Economics, War issues, Immigration etc. )
    Hillary will do good for All of US !!!!!!!
    Kennedy Family ?????? Nothing good !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    It's signal, that Obama won't do anything good !!!!!!!!!
    He will need to cooperate (REZKO link case) with some scumers in order to be in the position !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! not good it all !!!!!!!!!!!!!

    HILLARY 2008 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 29, 2008 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  11. MarkH

    If Obama had acknowledged/greeted Hillary, so many of you would be slamming him for doing so. "Ohh, he's just beside himself, he has to rub his Kennedy endorsement in to Hillary's face". The guy can't win either way, but time will surely tell. One thing I won't do for sure is vote for her. To hear her pontificating last night about how "WE WON"T HAVE TO LISTEN TO GEORGE BUSH ANYMORE" made me want to claw my ears. Like fingernails on a blackboard...

    January 29, 2008 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  12. karen

    well obama, the great uniter. Sort of like george bush the great uniter. Shows what a phony is – and all that talk is just that, talk. Now hillary has shown she can walk the talk. Go Hillary!

    January 29, 2008 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  13. teddy orlando fl

    wow americans are really weird

    who cares

    snub the HRC she is untrustworthy anyhow

    January 29, 2008 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  14. Lois Blasenheim

    Will the media ever admit that Obama is not "Sun, the Moon and the Stars"? His ungracious behaviour towards Hillary was peevish and immature but then he is the "big man on campus" who no one is allowed to criticize!!!!!

    January 29, 2008 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  15. Susan, MI

    Hillary Clinton /Obama '08. Obama, if you want to be vice president, shape up.

    January 29, 2008 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  16. David Edmondson

    I'm sorry, but I see the same partisan politics here. Obama didn't greet Hillary. Hillary didn't acknowledge Obama's victory on Saturday until her husband gave the concession speech. You honestly expected him to shake hands with her after what happened in South Carolina last week? Showing grace? How did she do that? A misleading radio ad and an inability to control her husband's racist rants, which were included in his reference to Jesse Jackson winning South Carolina in 84 & 88? Give me a break! Sure she never said that, but she should have stopped her husband. You can't have it both ways. You can't be graceful on one end while your spouse is helping you run a dirty campaign on the other side.

    This is a fight to the end. I really don't care that they shake hands now, so as long as both run their own campaigns and not have surrogates speak on their behalf. They will eventually have to come together before the convention in Denver. Until then, may the better candidate win.

    January 29, 2008 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  17. Lincoln

    Yo Yo

    My 'bro' ain't goin to give her any!

    January 29, 2008 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  18. Ken

    True CNN (Clinton News Network) reporting. The democrats are a joke and I pray that McCain or Huckabee win the next Presidency. If a democrat wins, mark my words, our nation will only fall deeper and deeper into a black hole of dispair.

    January 29, 2008 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  19. Deb

    Hillary displayed the grace one would expect from a World Leader!

    Obama is just an arrogant school boy who learned how to write a good speech-or found someone who can. He doesn’t have the maturity to unit anything!

    He will go back to being a Junior Senator with corrupt friends come 08.

    Hillary 08

    January 29, 2008 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  20. Talat

    You people are so gullible to the press!! Unbeliveable!!

    Do you know how she behaved while talking to Kennedy or other senators around Obama? Are you sure if she was not there to create this situation?
    She can easily talk to Kennedy and ignore Obama leading him to retreat? Is that so impossible?

    Haven't you learned anything from last 8 years how media twists "truth'?

    January 29, 2008 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  21. tennessee

    Hillary needed something to give her a boost after the awful behaviour she and her husband presented to the world the last two weeks. So now her supporters are pulling straws out of nothing. Pointing to a photo where HILLARY DOES NOT EXTEND HER HANDS TO OBAMA AND HE IS CLOSER TO HER. She snubs him. But if it makes you happy to see an awkward picture of Obama and Hillary, and to call Obama all these nasty names. Then have your day. But the WORLD saw the nastiness of Bill and Hillary last week, and South Carolina spoke volumes. This picture will do nothing to stop that.

    99.9 percent of the negative talk about Obama are Hillary supporters and those who would NEVER vote for Obama anyway. They are just trying to find any little excuse to justify their hate for this man.

    January 29, 2008 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  22. Amy

    MM January 29, 2008 11:56 am ET

    I do recall Obama waiting then following Bush to shake his hand.

    Nice catch there MM! Must appreciated! That's what they say – one action speaks louder than 1000 words. Do you Obama supporters REALLY think he is the second coming of Jesus? If Jesus was willing to DIE for the human race, your man was not even capable of greeting a fellow human being, in his own party?

    January 29, 2008 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  23. donL

    President Bush didn't shake Hilary's hand either. She is so polarizing. She could have shaken Ted Kennedy's hand later but she wanted to take advantage of an uncomfortable moment. She didn't want to shake Ted's hand. She didn't extend her had to Obama. She wanted to create a phony moment and capitalize on it . If she or he weren't running for president, they would have shaken hands. As my wife has been saying lately, "The Universe is watching."

    January 29, 2008 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  24. ramno

    "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."

    - This is the kind of crappy funky reasons Obama can get away with because of the biased media.

    January 29, 2008 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  25. Kate


    January 29, 2008 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
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