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. Dave

    This article neglects to note that handshakes work both ways. Sure, Obama didn't shake her hand– but it's not as though she extended hers to him and he pulled his hand away.

    January 29, 2008 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  2. nancy jo towry

    This showed that Obama has no respect for anyone that disagrees with him. How will he treat fellow Americans that do not agree with him in the coming years? This shows that as a leader he has not paid his dues and that he has a long way to go to learn what respect is. How will he treat other members of his party that dissagree with him. He is not working to better the Demorcratic Party and he showed that last night. We need experience in the White House and acting like a sulking child last night shows just how unready he is to lead our party to the much needed victory in the elections.

    January 29, 2008 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  3. Clintonhater

    I honestly believe some of these responses are paid Clinton supports cause you can't be that stupid...people are actually basing his leadership skills on the fact that he turned away to LET CLINTON HAVE HER MOMENT WITH FRIEND...all you clinton yahoo's are delusional and makng something out of nothing...reading some of these respones are down right pathitic...grow up..

    January 29, 2008 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  4. dave ma

    After reading the comments, Im thinking that Hillary supporters like to butt in to conversations that two other people are having out of the blue. And it's impolite when you don't interrupt conversation. Guys, please, just go away!

    Bill Clinton "Look, see here, If you say Clinton you'll get the nomination! Clinton. WHY ISNT IT WORKING???"

    January 29, 2008 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  5. Bill

    Could Obama be like Bush was,a wolf in sheep's clothing?

    January 29, 2008 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  6. EE

    The Senator seated next to Barack stared intently at Hillary . She had little choice but
    to acknowledge Senator Kennedy . Personally I think Barack did the honorable thing
    because this was an awkward moment for both Senators Kennedy and Clinton. I
    too would have turned away allowing them to speak at their first meeting
    after Senator Kennedy made the announcement supporting Barack in the primary.

    January 29, 2008 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  7. Dave

    And here is the man who is going to bring the country together?

    What about the Democrat party? If he thinks that snubbing his rival in the party is endearing him to her supporters he must be naive.

    In any case without her supporters he will be an also ran..... sort of like Mondale.

    January 29, 2008 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  8. skh4450IL

    Choose your battles CNN.

    No news here, and you people are falling for it.....hilarious!

    January 29, 2008 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  9. Doug

    If Clinton would have done what Obama has done here, there would have been breaking news all day today! Obama the uniter, what a joke! Clinton 08!

    January 29, 2008 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  10. bob

    CNN is such a tabloid.

    January 29, 2008 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  11. Kenny

    Clinton Is a Warrior! You really can see someones TRUE COLORS!

    January 29, 2008 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  12. Terry

    CNN wake up!

    Stupid stories like this that you are doing back and forth about Clinton and Obama is really further eroding the "little trust" that people have in the media.

    According to a Harris poll a few years back, 62 to 22 percent (almost 3-to-1) majority of Americans did not trust "the press".

    Way to go CNN ...
    if you keep up this tabloid-journalism, folks in newsrooms who take their jobs seriously will continue to suffer because of your lack of judgment.

    January 29, 2008 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  13. Frank, MO

    tracey January 29, 2008 11:53 am ET

    Vote for a real man…a woman!

    Hillary for President!

    That's when happens when a Billary runs for a co-presidency.

    I just need ONE president : BARACK OBAMA !

    January 29, 2008 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  14. stan pitts pa

    to Steve, Lyons, CO: i bet more people would rather still shake george bush hand than divise HRC, i have lost all respect for the clintons, after their negative campaigning and CNN = CLINTON NEWS NETWORKS, i never thought a network could be so biased, funny though is the people of America know it, and thats why MSNBC RATINGS are getting better by the day, keep up the good work cnn.

    January 29, 2008 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  15. Jason

    I am really starting to lose respect for Obama. I am starting to see that he is like Bush who is also a "uniter". This was very rude of him, and it shows his arrogance.

    January 29, 2008 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  16. observer

    Obama's mind was probably on Rezko. Rezko is Obama's baby, signed ,sealed ,and delivered. Their friendship has a 17 year history, yet Obama refered to him as someone I don't know that well, and his land/ house deal as a "bone-headed" mistake. No, Obama , the mistake is repeatedly being caught not telling the truth. There's no "Change" to that. For a clear insight on the Obama/ Rezko relationship, google Rezko/ Obama . Also, Obama made a cheap shot at Hillary about WalMart, Michelle Obama was on the board of TreeHouse Foods, their biggest customer, you got it, WALMART! Seems there's enough Walmart to go around even to the Obamas. Obama is living in a fantasy world if he thinks there is an end to the Rezko story. It's just getting warm.

    January 29, 2008 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  17. Drama

    A picture worth thousands of useless words.

    January 29, 2008 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  18. gary4

    Thanks Obama, I have been riding the fence until I saw such disrespect. We need a leader that forgives and reaches up and forward at the end of the day. Go Mrs. Clinton, go all the way to the White House.

    January 29, 2008 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  19. Lisa, Houston, TX

    Regardless if the media is playing this up, Obama should have acknowledged Hillary with a simple handshake. Their in the same political party regardless of their differences. He should have set an example. Is this what we should expect of Obama if he does become our President?

    He just proved to me and many others how arrogant and inexperienced he really is. So what if he has Oprah and the Kennedy's behind him. He shouldn't think he's got the Democratic nomination or even the Presidency in the bag.

    As far as Hillary goes, what is the big deal with everyone talking about her looks? The way she dresses, laughs, smiles? Just because she's a woman everyone automatically goes for those insults. We may not agree with all her views but do we agree with every single view of our chosen candidate? I don't see anybody talking about the male candidates suits, hair and looks overall. At least give her some credit for standing up there being the only woman to take on the other candidates, media and the american public.

    January 29, 2008 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  20. Lisa in Iowa

    How can it be considered rude to allow two collegues to meet and greet each other without hovering over the two with an air of "Ha Ha – he's mine" appearance. If Mr. Obama would have kept his position, it would have appeared as a united two-against-one" statue, which would have been more impolite that what the media is reading into this one snapshot.

    Also, I'd like to add that Mr. Kennedy's support of Mr. Obama, has increased my amount of respect for Mr. Kennedy, so his endorsement can work both ways!

    January 29, 2008 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  21. TC, Napa, CA

    CNN... this is news.. HOW?! NONE of you will ever live up to the integrity, ethics, and true spin-free journalism of Edward Murrow! None! It was an awkward moment... even if you're mature, it's awkward. Like no one has been put in such spots before.

    Thumbs down, CNN.

    January 29, 2008 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  22. Amy, Kazoo

    JB Hull- it says in the article it lasted 5 minutes. there was time for him to face her. He opted not to. Ultimately it's his choice. But it's also our choice to weigh it how we like, to use it as a tool to see how he really behaves in awkward situations. Didn't your mother ever tell you there are consequences for every action?

    January 29, 2008 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  23. rw


    Wow, this dude's messed up.

    January 29, 2008 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  24. Joseph

    The vigorous attempts of Obama's supporters to excuse his behavior stands as the perfect testament to the observation that ‘It is the art of self-deception that we practice the greatest invention.’

    January 29, 2008 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  25. Jami, TX

    We, Americans, keep complaining about the lack of genuineness of the candidates, about how frank and truthful we want those who want to represent us should be, then when Sen. Obama displays all those qualities, some on this board want to paint him as immature.

    I command Sen. Obama for what he did because he's shown me that he is NOT a HYPOCRITE willing to plaster a fake smile and extend fake greetings to an opponent who has done nothing but distort the truth in a desperate attempt to win the nomination. When was the last time some of you critics reached out to greet someone who had spread all sorts of malevolent rumors and innuendos about you?

    All you Clinton supporters should ask yourselves the following: Will anything of substance be accomplished if HRC wins the Presidency? What kind of political climate will exist if she's elected?

    It's time to be a little less self-serving and start thinking about the country as a whole. This woman. if elected, will bring nothing with her but the status quo, a wedge to keep the country divided and Bill's shadow for another 4 years.

    January 29, 2008 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
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