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. Judith Ferren Errol NH

    You know, I think the media is putting a spin on this 5 minute encounter as well...

    First of all, Obama has been very respectful of Hillary, it was her policies he talked about. then after Iowa and her loss there to him, she said "now the fun begins", and she had Bill go out after him with untruths and using a race card, he answered back, as anyone would answer back and set the record straight.

    read the papers people, it's all over them, Clinton supporters are telling Bill to "back off and shut up", so it must be voters are tired of the same old dirty politics too...

    As Mr. Obama said, "it was hard to tell which of the Clintons he was running against, Hillary or Bill"... And frankly as a voter, it was hard to tell which of the Clinton's was running for the top seat... It also showed me how it would be in the WH, if Hillary gets offended by another Countries leader is she going to send Bill out to slap them around for her? Get real....

    Hillary will do whatever it takes to win no matter who she has to stomp in the ground to get there, amd no matter how many lies they use, or part truths, or anything else.

    I'd think twice before I took her hand too...

    January 29, 2008 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  2. Nobama

    That picture speaks a thousand words. Hello... where's the politics of hope???

    January 29, 2008 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  3. Blimzmus

    What should have been a great day for Obama (Kenndy endorsement) turned into a day he may wish never happened. I don't think the incident will change the minds of the Obamanites, but it may have an impact on how the undecided democrats think of him.

    January 29, 2008 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  4. Anonymous

    For every one Democrat that Obama loses not shaking hands with Hillary, that's ten Republicans he just won over.

    Uniting with Hillary is the poison pill of his "change/unity" campaign. You folks need to think big picture.

    January 29, 2008 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  5. Bill in CT

    really.. you folks that think this is newsworthy are idiots. Living to be spun.. I do see Hillary going out of her way to reach out,,

    Folks.. this country is in the shape it is in because of a lack of critical thinking as opposed to just being critical for no reason..

    OBAMA in 08

    January 29, 2008 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  6. Yvonne

    This morning CNN reported that Barack turned his back on Hillary at the State of the Nation Address. I see nothing in this clip nor the one on CNN to demonstrate that Barack turned his back on Hillary or ignored her. I think it is very unfair that the media made such a comment because realistically, Hillary approached Ted who was standing next to Barack. She reached across and shook Ted's hand so naturally Barack had to move to the side or turn to allow her to shake Ted's hand. She approached them and ethically she should have said hello to everyone in the group, including Barack. If you approach a group of people or enter a room where others are present it is your ethical and moral responsibility to be polite and say hello to everyone present not the other way around. She behaved most unethically by not also greeting Barack in the same manner she greeted Ted. That is what CNN should have reported.
    I have always admired her and even intended to vote for her, but she has been acting rather "petty" . That is not someone I would want as president.

    January 29, 2008 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  7. Austin for Hillary

    You know, everyone thinks their candidate is the best and we have every right to that. But each time I read comments from the Obama supporters it speaks volumes of their lack of maturity–mental growth. But then as the polls say it's the young people voting for him. I believe maturity doesn't come with age, but with awareness and understanding? You are demonstrating the opposite. I'm not putting young people down, because I have two daughters ages 28 and 26 and I am so very proud how they address and respond to issues they agree on or oppose, and how they also settle difference with maturity.

    I'm sure some of the comments posted are from older folks, you too are acting quite immaturely. Honestly, I'm glad you are supporting Obama.

    January 29, 2008 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  8. Becky

    Give me a break. The comments run across the lines. If you are for Clinton you make Obama look rude and likewise if you are for Obama you think he did the right thing. All in all who cares if he spoke to her or not. The gloves are off and she has been snotty to him and tore him down and why would he go out of his way to give the press something else to pounce on. If he had said something they would have made something of that. Just vote your conscience and move on from all the petty politics!

    January 29, 2008 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  9. Jimmy

    If all the pseudo-prognosticators in this blog ,were a tenth as knowledgale as
    say George Will , George Steph...etc, we could just maybe swayed a little bit.
    And for those hate-mongers blogging their teeny weeny voices . They need
    to see their Pastors and Minister. How can hate do anything but play into the evil hands of the Devil himself.
    GOD Bless America and Pray for our country instead. DO VOTE on the issues
    like the Economy and the IRAQ WAR. Dont forget our troops are dying, losing life and limb for our country.

    January 29, 2008 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  10. Maria Hilda Arenas

    Ted Kennedy's endorsement of Barack Obama "does nothing to change my vote.
    I AM VOTING FOR "HILLARY R. CLINTON" . Mr. Ted Kennedy has a problem with women, he doesn't like them, that may explain his history with women.
    I challange women across the country to make a difference, make history and elect a woman for our next president. It is time for women to rise above!!!
    "Blessed Are Those Among Women".

    January 29, 2008 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  11. Debbie




    January 29, 2008 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  12. Diane

    There has always been something about Barack I did not trust even though I wanted to like him. I saw it last night. I think he is arrogant and a preacher man. Glad to see people are waking up to the real Barack.

    I go with Clinton.

    January 29, 2008 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  13. James Martin

    I pinch myself at times, to see if perhaps I am still in the 9th grade and the "news" is being reported by a 13 year old. Why does this amount to news? Get real folks. CNN=Best team. IN YOUR DREAMS WOLF. Had to be a slow day!

    January 29, 2008 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  14. DD, New York

    Does anybody know why Clinton did not speak with the reporters last night after the State of the Union Address? The reporters said Clinton had left, giving no reason. Really, I would like to know what happened there.

    January 29, 2008 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  15. Dan

    Clintonistas are really hateful people. I am ashamed to have ever counted myself among your ranks in the past. Regardless of whether there was an intentional snub or not, those supporting Clinton really need to stop and ask yourself why you hate Obama so much? Do you hate him because he has the audacity to stand up to the entrenched leadership of the party? He is a legitimate candidate like Clinton and he deserves the respect of a legitmate candidate. Save you bile for your link-minded friends. Elevate the public discourse for once, rather than follow the lead of the Republicans by spoiling the public discourse

    January 29, 2008 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  16. OPRAH

    Barack didnt have the OK from Oprah to shake Hillary's hand. Dont blame him!

    January 29, 2008 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  17. EE

    Hey guys i understand Obama frustration.Well, let me think…they back stab me…they lie about my past….lie about my career….call me muslim…files a lawsuit to ambush a campaign I’m in in Nevada…she sicks her husband on me and stands by smiling sweetly…well I don’t know I might turn away too. Yes, I definitely would turn away. America knows this has been very personal and bitter. The Clintons made it that way.

    Ask youself this…what would you do in a case like that? Ask youself why Billary didn’t go up to Obama and shake his hand and congratulate him on his win in South Carolina. My, my was she just possibly playing up to cameras. Oh dear I bet she was!

    Give Me A Break Hillary.

    January 29, 2008 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  18. Sam

    I am a bit disappointed with Obama here. The maturity level comes through. For somebody who is campaigning on unifying the country and willing to talk with our enemies around the world, this picture does not bode well. It just shows that he need 8 more years to get ready for the presidency.

    January 29, 2008 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  19. Debbie


    January 29, 2008 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  20. Leo

    This article is absurd and an insult to your normally wonderful news coverage.
    I'd be saying the same thing if Clinton turned from Obama.
    Or if Bush turned from Kerry.

    This is simply not a story. Leave it for the partisan rags.

    January 29, 2008 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  21. Yes We Can!

    HA HA HA HA HA.... CNN proves again the IQ of Americans is pretty low. Just read the post above - PRICELESS!

    The story originally ran with no quotes of what happened just a single shot picture and these people really bought the story...LESSON: this is what's called a tabloid shot. And then CNN updates the picture with a quote from Obama's camp explaing what actually happened which makes perfect sense. This has happened to me several times at events especially if i just saw the person moments before. Did anyone question whether Obama and Clinton saw each other BEFORE entering the room or before someone started clicking away?... of course not! It must have been a snub! Ahhhhhhh the media.

    January 29, 2008 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  22. Chris

    I from across the pond and you blokes sound bloody ridiculous.

    January 29, 2008 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  23. Elizabeth

    The media is making, once again, a big deal out of nothing. Obama is not immature and Hillary is not "grace under pressure." Some of the comments on these and other media outlets sound too much like the candidates. Maybe your operatives for the campaigns? I prefer to read real comments like Rev. Powell's and the one about shaking the hand of a snake.
    Rather than focusing on who acknowledged Hillary why not talk about Hillary standing up when Bush claimed Al Qaeda is leaving Iraq b/c of the surge, how about talking about Hillary leaning on a Latina and an African American Colleague. Of course she wants to be seen with colleagues who represent the voters she needs. You can go on and on reading into the body languages of the candidates. I prefer to dwell in the thought that there will be NO BUSH come 08!

    January 29, 2008 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  24. Oprah

    Obama didnt have permission from Oprah to shake her hand...dont blame him!

    January 29, 2008 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  25. JAM

    To Lenny (Democrat)@12:41AM, You are kidding, right? If it had been the other way around it would have been a bigger deal and CNN would have made it Breaking News.

    January 29, 2008 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
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