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. Geo

    I thought Obama was supposed to be the one bringing us all together. Does that mean all except the Clintons?

    January 29, 2008 12:28 am at 12:28 am |
  2. Danny, CA

    There is no civility in them. Both Hillary and Barak should go home and give us peace.....

    January 29, 2008 12:28 am at 12:28 am |
  3. Seriously?

    along the same lines, dick cheney's eye twitched three times during the section of the speech on Iran. You couldn't see it in real time. You have to slow it down and enlarge the picture but its there. It has no meaning whatsoever, so it should fit in well on this ticker. Thank God for the internet b/c if it didn't exist I would actually have to rely on CNN or FoxNews to get information.

    January 29, 2008 12:29 am at 12:29 am |
  4. lorimax

    If he can not handle one civil conversation how will he handle a country .

    Show him you have what it takes Hillary

    January 29, 2008 12:29 am at 12:29 am |
  5. Jennifer

    Get over it. Hillary is still the better candidate!!

    January 29, 2008 12:31 am at 12:31 am |
  6. Joan

    Obama is an arrogant little whiny boy. I think if he is nominated, he will be slammed by the republicans and his holier-than-thou crap will not work.

    Plus, stop demonizing the Clintons. I agree that the Jesse-Jackson comment was–stupid, but beyond that I don't think they have done anything outrageous. I mean when you face the republicans you are gonna have to combat fake scandals and wild accusations and then your unity crap will die. Bill Clinton ran a unity campaign and from day one the repubs handicapped his ability to rule by mostly wild and fake accusations that had nothing to do with how he was governing. Don't expect it not happen again.

    January 29, 2008 12:31 am at 12:31 am |
  7. Lilly

    Sure. When someone finally says something about Obama, no one comments and the only comment dismisses the significance of his behavior toward Clinton. I have such deep respect for Obama, but sometimes I cannot help but feel that he is just as unwilling to reach a point of resolution and get back to professional, friendly (yet still competitive) terms with Clinton. What does this say about all his talk of compromise across party lines, when he cannot even come to a compromise (in a way) with a fellow party member?

    I think it is about time that the media begins reading into Obama's behavior as they have been reading into the Clinton campaign. Clinton was right in front of his nose, talking directly to the man who recently announced he would be endorsing him. Obama was talking to no one behind him. He just turned his back on her. But, of course, it is not all Obama. I would have tapped Obama on the shoulder or called out his name. "Hey, Obama! How is it going my friend?!"....=)

    Anyways, I will just state this here. I am so disappointed in how things are looking for Clinton and the wrong choices she seems to be making when handling the attacks made against her, and the attacks she is making against Obama. She should really start listening to the criticism and put Bill Clinton back behind the scenes. She still has my vote because I still believe she is the most qualified, but I don't know how the odds are looking for her right now........

    January 29, 2008 12:32 am at 12:32 am |
  8. shawn

    Kevin is probably an employee of the Obama campaign. For all of you who support Obama, think of it this way. Bill Clinton ran on a platform of change in 1992. And the Republicans who could not deal with the thought of a democratic president sought to tear him apart. Now I know that Obama is a good speaker. But you have to be pretty darn stupid to think that if he receives the democrat nomination , that they Republicans are not going to tear him apart. It seems as if anytime Hillary says anything against Obama she is criticized. In other words, Obama has not really been tested politically. But I don't think that those criticisms will matter to Republicans. Atleast Hillary has been through those fights.

    January 29, 2008 12:33 am at 12:33 am |
  9. Ed

    i concur, Kevin. Leave them be. Jeez.

    January 29, 2008 12:33 am at 12:33 am |
  10. Grant

    I dunno, maybe she is reading a bit far into it. Maybe not. How hard would it have been to shake Hillary's hand, no words even needed? I just don't know what to think. I remember watching SC's debate, and Hillary would laugh and even clapped at Obama's jokes. He always had a stern look in response to her. I wish they could play nice together. We need them both.

    January 29, 2008 12:34 am at 12:34 am |
  11. mike

    i would agree, stop trying to create drama

    January 29, 2008 12:34 am at 12:34 am |
  12. Walt

    So what, now Obama's the bad guy? The Clintons' recent behavior has far outpaced any silent act of rejection on Obama's part. Get a grip!

    January 29, 2008 12:34 am at 12:34 am |
  13. Linda

    If they had talked cordially, it would have been hailed as phoniness. There's no winning sometimes.

    January 29, 2008 12:34 am at 12:34 am |
  14. Gail

    Lets not try to make so much of everything. This was a beautiful day for Barack Obama....it was a blow to the Clintons....it was their to lose and they did and Obama deserve the endorsement.

    January 29, 2008 12:34 am at 12:34 am |
  15. Nick

    Come on, CNN, Is this really news?

    January 29, 2008 12:35 am at 12:35 am |
  16. Tina

    Thank you Jessica Yellin. Sometimes I wonder if Obama really wants this whole President thing or not. He seems afraid when he's around the seasoned political folks.

    January 29, 2008 12:35 am at 12:35 am |
  17. Shane

    I'm sorry but that is really unfortunate that he did that because it was really divisive especially if she reached out to shake his hand.

    January 29, 2008 12:36 am at 12:36 am |
  18. spdubois

    Oh, and this is the guy who is going to "bring the country together" - yeah, right. He also says he's not campaigning in Florida yet he is airing commericals on TV blaming it on "cable" and how do you pull ads from National Cable – it's easy – it's called modern technology. What a load of crap. Everyday he sounds more and more like Bush.

    January 29, 2008 12:37 am at 12:37 am |
  19. Linda Reed

    I think that being unfriendly/uncivil perhaps shows Obama may not be the "great uniter "he wantsus to think he is? A smile, a handshake cost so little?

    January 29, 2008 12:37 am at 12:37 am |
  20. Erin

    This is kind of ridiculous to be in the news. This wasn't a brawl on the floor of Congress. Come on now.

    January 29, 2008 12:38 am at 12:38 am |
  21. Nina

    I think it was very tacky of Obama. A Uniter, Yeah sure.

    January 29, 2008 12:38 am at 12:38 am |
  22. Shane

    That was really ungracious of him no matter how they feel about each other. that's how high school children act.

    January 29, 2008 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  23. Newburgh, IN Man


    Jessica Yelin, get a Job...

    You call this NEWS...?

    YOU & CNN are Pathetic...!!!

    January 29, 2008 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  24. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    Obama reached out to shake GWB hand and GWB turned away but nobody reports that. Obama nor Hillary weren't the masters of ceremony.

    January 29, 2008 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  25. Hugo M., Ithaca, NY

    I wouldn't talk to her either. She'd probably send out an email twisting his words. Hard to be civil when she began the use of old-day, cheap, and false smear politics,

    January 29, 2008 12:40 am at 12:40 am |
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