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. terry

    Obama has no savvy.

    January 29, 2008 12:40 am at 12:40 am |
  2. Mrs. America

    Will be interesting to see how Clinton and Obama explain this little non-exchange, if they do. From the description, there's only one odd man out here. Wonder if there will be any video so we can see first hand and inject our own perspective on the event.

    January 29, 2008 12:40 am at 12:40 am |
  3. rachel

    I see an idea of an obama/clinton or clinton/obama ticke slipping away.

    January 29, 2008 12:40 am at 12:40 am |
  4. J

    none of this type of idiotic rubbish matters. really? this is what you are reporting on tonight? how much more clearly can we say it: WE DON'T CARE ABOUT THIS STUFF. ONLY THE MEDIA DOES.

    January 29, 2008 12:41 am at 12:41 am |
  5. Nanc

    Obama looks slightly pouty in this picture. Did he think Kennedy would now shun her? How childish for the "hope" guy, a bigger man would have acknowledged her. Don't you remember pulling this type of "if I don't look at her, she doesn't exist" game in junior high?

    January 29, 2008 12:41 am at 12:41 am |
  6. Tameka

    What? Are you serious? The President just gave the State of the Union, and Jessica Yellin is writing about what? Is this journalism? I can't believe this crap!!!!!!!!!!!

    Heck, I have to agree with Monteal Williams on this one, who, unfortunately was killed yesterday in the Iraqi War? At least in this coverage, it will be news over useless commentary.


    January 29, 2008 12:41 am at 12:41 am |
  7. Lenny (Democrat)

    I agree. It doesn't seem to be a big deal to me, and it certainly wouldn't have been had it gone the other way either.

    January 29, 2008 12:41 am at 12:41 am |
  8. Sandy

    I agree with Kevin,too much drama.

    January 29, 2008 12:42 am at 12:42 am |
  9. Joe

    How can Obama unite the nation when he cannot even be gracious to someone running against him in his same party? This was tacky. Very tacky. No gentleman would act this way.

    January 29, 2008 12:42 am at 12:42 am |
  10. Patty

    I THINK THAT hillary was the MAN HERE. she had the the grace and the balls to go out of her way. While Obama turns his head like a 10 year old.

    January 29, 2008 12:43 am at 12:43 am |
  11. Maria, Houston

    here we are – back to the tabloids....any other gossip to report?

    January 29, 2008 12:43 am at 12:43 am |
  12. Adrian

    Honestly Jessica Yellin. What are you 5? DOn't you ever have REAL NEWS to report, or are you still bitter about Bill Clinton telling you like it is... Go work for US Weekly or TMZ if this is the sort of thing you are going to contribute.

    January 29, 2008 12:44 am at 12:44 am |
  13. Lauren

    Um, who cares? Honestly, are there not more important things to be reporting on? This is essentially 7 paragraphs of speculation about what might have happened in regard to various senators shaking hands. This is not news!

    January 29, 2008 12:44 am at 12:44 am |
  14. Len, Fallbrook, CA

    They will be kissing cousins after it is all over and the loser wants the vice slot

    January 29, 2008 12:44 am at 12:44 am |
  15. David

    Senator Obama, how petty!

    This is just another sign of the true Obama. His arrogance such as "You're likable enough, Hillary" comment and now acting like a child by turning his back to Clinton and can't even shake her hand. Petty, petty, petty. This is not a way for a democratic candidate to act.

    January 29, 2008 12:44 am at 12:44 am |
  16. Seattle Clinton Supporter

    Doesn't sound very thoughtful on Obama's part. He also did not shine when he chose not to concede the Nevada loss, nor did he even mention her name in his victory speech. Doesn't feel very unifying to me.

    January 29, 2008 12:45 am at 12:45 am |
  17. James of VA

    Frankly, after the way Hiliary played the 'race' card leading up to SC primary, i wouldn't want to say anything to her either. I mean, seriously - I'm white & male and i was ashamed of the way Bill (by the way, he does know that Hilary is the canidate and not him, right?) and Hilary so blatently tried to seperate people out into 'white' and 'black'.

    January 29, 2008 12:45 am at 12:45 am |
  18. Christine

    I do to.

    I think that what is tiring to those of us watching the election is how the networks are starting to distort everything for the sake of manufacturing ratings worthy drama.

    This is one reason why the people most qualified to run for President are smart enough to stay away from politics. Because journalists rip good people to shreds for sport then move on to the next victim.

    Pathetic. We expect better CNN. Could you change course please?

    January 29, 2008 12:45 am at 12:45 am |
  19. Vi in San Francisco

    It just shows how ungracious Obama is...

    January 29, 2008 12:45 am at 12:45 am |
  20. daniel

    That's exactly where the problem lies, why didn't Clinton reach out to Obama if she could reach accross to the people beside him.

    Or perhaps your spin is to fault Obama?

    January 29, 2008 12:46 am at 12:46 am |
  21. Dawn


    January 29, 2008 12:46 am at 12:46 am |
  22. Nancy, Dallas TX

    the stuff of 13 year old girls. great coverage, CNN.

    January 29, 2008 12:46 am at 12:46 am |
  23. Shaun

    Who cares?

    January 29, 2008 12:47 am at 12:47 am |
  24. Daniel

    Don't you people have something better you can be doing with your time?

    January 29, 2008 12:48 am at 12:48 am |
  25. Miami _Paul

    I was told by a family member who is in the congress that Obama was looking for a fimilar voice who had yelled in the crowd and didn't even notice that Mrs. Clinton was there. If you notice he was clapping...and looking intently in the direction of the gallery....with so many people reaching and shaking hands it was easy enough to miss an exchange in this type of atmosphere.

    I love a good story...but my GOD what the media says they would like to see is not what they are reporting...the issues.

    January 29, 2008 12:48 am at 12:48 am |
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