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. Californian

    I just dont understand how anyone could vote for someone else(Hilary) after hearing obama Speak. Go OBAMA

    January 29, 2008 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  2. Bob

    Once again Obama does something arguably unbecoming and he claims he was misunderstood or that there was something else behind it. This reminds me of his "Hillary you're likeable enough" comment at the debate. Why isn't what Obama says and does subject to same attacks when Hillary (or Bill) does something?

    January 29, 2008 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  3. CJ, Albany, NY

    This picture is/was a single moment in time, everyone wants to analyse it and say it's Obama not being civil. What if 2 seconds later he did turn around and shake her hand or say hello to her..you don't know that. Again your trying to analyse a single moment in time...I blame this about 98% on the media...single out a controversial moment and run with it, typical media!

    OBAMA '08!

    back to the kitchen hillary!!!

    January 29, 2008 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  4. TEXAN for Hillary

    Lisa, Houston, TX

    Very well said. I agree with you. I think the men and women who are willing to bash her and not support is simple–they don't want a woman to lead them and the women are intimidated. The women politicians should stop and think why ran for office and thank the voters who helped put them there.

    January 29, 2008 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  5. 20/20 Vision

    The media's understanding of human emotion will eventully decide which way poeple vote. This is just the cat and mouse game that the media plays to keep the American people blind to the fact of what their doing. One week Ms Clinton is the root of all evil the next week Obama's satins son. The media is so back and forth putting spin on everything it's rediculous. This photo was obviously took in the moment ,the camera was problaly on a multi- burst setting taking many pictures at one time catching Sen. Obama in an unfavorable position. I'ts all about controlling the momentum back and forth ,forth and back Obama,Clinton,Cliton,Obama.The longer this plays out the better for the media because without the drama they would'nt have anything to report.

    January 29, 2008 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  6. Janel, St. Paul, MN

    This whole discussion is laughable.

    According to Senator Obama, he looked away as Senator McCaskill was asking him a question. Senator McCaskill, who confirmed this, said today that "this moment caught on film has been blown into something that it frankly wasn't."

    Folks, let's just stick to the issues confronting our country, and stop trying to read something into inconsequential things.

    January 29, 2008 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  7. joli

    Alice in Florida ...you are hilarious... took the words right out of my mouth lol

    Actually, in this picture he just looks like maybe he needs his diaper changed.
    – Alice

    January 29, 2008 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  8. Louise

    That was so childish of Obama...a little bit of grace was all that was required and he couldn't even muster that up. Is he going to throw all his toys out of the playpen if he gets elected?? I'm sure that would go down well in negotiations with Pakistan, Iraq, Iran etc.

    Well done Hillary for being adult, mature and gracious.

    January 29, 2008 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |


    January 29, 2008 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  10. Judith Ferren Errol NH

    Question.... Everyone is coming down on Obama not shaking her hand and jumping up to her ... Did she try to shank his hand???? oops... guess the shoe is on the other foot huh?

    making too much over nothing....

    January 29, 2008 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  11. Iraq connections?

    Apparently, Rezko borrowed 3.5 million dollars from some billionaire in Iraq. Why would a billionaire from Iraq have connections with Rezko? Makes me wonder if there's a connection with Obama "I was against the war from the start". Interesting. A stretch, but one never knows.

    January 29, 2008 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  12. jackie

    I thought Obama was the one who was going to bring everyone together?
    Change we can't count on.

    January 29, 2008 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  13. CJ, Albany, NY

    CNN – Focus on real issues, this isn't FOX you know.

    January 29, 2008 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  14. That Canadian Guy

    The problem with America is the politics. After watching the 'State Of The Union' address it is very apparent where the lines of discrimination start, between the Republicans and the Democrats. This transcends down to the everyday average american person. Hence why the south hasn't evolved the way it should have years ago.

    I am also amazed at how Bush as well as the candidates talk about tax incentives and ways to jump start the economy, meanwhile did it ever don on them, how much of an injection the economy would get if a politician actually had to earn their retirement. In the speech last night, I would guess the attendance to be about 1,500 people (to be safe). With an average salary (while working) of $150,000.00, that total would be $225,000,000.00. A good jump start I would say. Now consider the billions spent on their retirement packages, and that is a good reason why the economy has tanked. Sure educate the people, then give them Option A or Option B for president. Unfortunately you are then forced into the policies of the person that you voted for. The US isn't a country of the people, it is a country for the politicians. The average american works for 35-40 years and can barely afford retirement, let alone pay for their health should something go wrong, while a politician works 4 years and collects taxpayers monies until they die. The mathematics needs to begin on the politicians themselves. A good leader sets an example, and unfortunately many countries have not had a mentality with the people, more of their wallets.

    In conclusion, the world went through the Industrial Revolution and reaped the benefits. Now we face the reprecussions of the Technolical & Automation Age combined with that of rollovers of the retirement packages of the politicians. As the number of baby boomer politicians retire, including the average joe, try to be optimistic, but in the end a depression is the reality of either party. Numbers always speak the truth. The truth just can't be spoken or votes will be lost.

    January 29, 2008 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  15. Dave

    Quoting veronica lynne:

    "He is arrogant, and it's all about HIM. (just like Bush, maybe even worse).
    America deserves better"


    I get a little queasy when I watch Obama as he is asked a question, he even seems to have that little smirk which Bush exposes under the same situation.

    We definitely don't need another Bush-lite for the next 4 to 8 years....

    January 29, 2008 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  16. Jen

    I know I would feel awkward if two friends were talking over me and especially if their conversation was not for my ears. I am sure he was attempting to give them some form of privacy.

    January 29, 2008 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  17. anon

    I don't think that this one incident should be life changing to the election. Seriously, are people forgetting all the lying and underhanded tactics that Hillary has used? Now all of a sudden people are trying to make her seem like an innocent victim of Obama, and I'm not falling for it. If you can dish it out, you should be able to take it. This incident would be a ignorant and stupid reason to gear your support towards Hillary if it wasn't there before.

    January 29, 2008 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  18. Robin

    Did anyone else notice that smug finger-on-the-nose posture of Obama during Teddy's rant yesterday? What was THAT? My 10-year old nephew is more adult that this guy.

    January 29, 2008 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  19. tess

    if hillary is as immature as obama she would have done the same to ted, but she didn't. obama is such a baby. hillary has the guts to walk across the isle and face the men who support her even though they are amidst the men who just trashed her. even shook their hands. well, that is gutsy! sorry baby obama-for once your silence spoke louder than your words...

    January 29, 2008 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  20. CHIKOO


    January 29, 2008 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  21. kay

    Neither one of them is any good. They are senators, Big egos and implode. They haven't been elected president since Kennedy.
    Don't worry. They will kiss and make up and then CNN can gush all over Hill.
    This uniting business is a bunch of nonsense.
    We should be concentrating on our economy and national saftey. With out that we have nothing. I been around a long time and this touchy feely crap means nothing.
    Vote for brains. Vote for Romney. And before you start saying he's trying to buy the election, just remembe he EArned his money, didn't suck off the tax payers all his live and didn't take pay for being gov.or for the Olympics work.
    oh, I almost forgot. This is a liberal site. Well, you just keep on squabbling like 5 year olds. Maybe when you grow up you'll take a look at whats important in life.

    January 29, 2008 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  22. Max

    If this is the issue that will sway people's support for a candidate one way or the other- god help us all.

    How about supporting a candidate because of their stance on the issues: the war, the economy, health care?

    Nope. You're voting for Hillary because Obama didn't shake her hand.

    Oh, brother.

    January 29, 2008 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  23. Tim

    OK, so now we'll see how BO handles a gaffe. The campaign comment was totally inadequate! He needs to make nice, whether he wants to or not, Let's see what's next

    I love an election year!

    January 29, 2008 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  24. Democrat

    Come on folks – lets stop micro analyzing every move made by these two candidates. It's such a waste of energy and truly not worth the time it takes to comment. Also, Shame on you, CNN.

    January 29, 2008 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  25. Karen, Florida

    I guess it was only a matter of time before the golden boy began to tarnish. I guess he lives by the "do as I say, not as I do" motto. These days when he opens his mouth all I hear is the sound all adults make in Charlie Brown tv shows. Waah waah waah waah.

    January 29, 2008 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
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