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. Greg

    Over and over we see Sen. Obama unable to handle difficult confrontations. We have seen it in the debates, when given tough questions, and when faced with a strong challenge. Hillary has gone through a gauntlet of challenges ever since whe hit the public stage. Think about it. Sen. Obama keeps his impressive speaking style and rhetoric pouring forth, but he absolutely proves that he is not ready to lead a deeply divided, dangerous, and contentious world. Hillary has proven she can. Besides, Sen. Obama is constantly calling for change, tell us, what changes has he made since being in the Senate. He misses more votes than most, has not introduced any vital legislation, and has generally spent his short tenure campaigning. Hillary is dignified once again and proves herself to be a true disciplined Statesperson.

    January 29, 2008 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  2. stan pitts pa

    hillary supporters stop hating the better candidate, you know what i mean!stop smarting and hating just because ted kennedy did not endorse your candidate!

    January 29, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  3. Deborah

    Senator Obama may have felt uncomfortable, but I think a great statesperson should be able to handle discomfort with grace and dignity. I see more grace and dignity while under fire from Senator Clinton (who had even more reason to feel uncomfortable). I just hope that if Obama wins the nomination for our party, that he can accomplish 10 years of personal growth in three months. That is the only way he can win the election. If Obama complains about Senator Clinton “twisting his words”, what is going to happen when Fox News, Limbaugh and all the rest of the radical-right send their big guns after him? As I saw the So Carolina debate, it was the chance for Senator Obama to see what the real race was going to be like and in my opinion, he folded under the pressure. Obama claims he will end diviseness in politics… I remember the last campaign promise by Bush “I’m a uniter, not a divider…” I certainly hope Hillary wins the nomination, because we may not survive another republican presidency.


    January 29, 2008 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  4. Clam Digga

    Lou Dobbs influenced me to register from democratic to independent...... Hillary and Obama have influenced me to probably vote Republican.

    January 29, 2008 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  5. Robert Bell


    And we wonder what is wrong with this country.

    People are more concerned with whether Obama shook Hillary's hand or not.

    Let me ask you this:

    If someone insinuated you were a Muslim Terrorist, said you admired Reagan (when you said no such thing) and did a million other dirty, underhanded things, would you shake their hand?

    Heck no.

    Obama looked away to save Hillary from an awkward moment. She went across the aisle to HIS SEAT and then talked to someone else like he wasnt' there.

    Sounds like another one of her staged events – all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    She will do ANYTHING to win.

    January 29, 2008 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  6. J. McKinney SW MO

    Obviously, going by the over 1500 posts here, it is thought by 90% that Obama was pouty and childish, and Hillary was the "adult" here, and willing to act the right way. That sends Obama's message of unity and reaching across the isle, etc, down the creek, doesn't it?
    the 10% here who are saying this isn't news, or you can't think why Obama should be civil to Hillary since they are disagreeing in the debates, etc. Think about this. If Obama isn't capable of acting civil to Clinton, because he thinks she isn't being "nice" to him in the debates, then how is he going to act to world leaders that we need to deal with? Is he going to pout and turn his back on Putin, and other world leaders that we need to come to agreement with? This is a lot more important than the Dem. debate. And it is way more important than the debate with the Republicans, and whether they will fry Obama alive, which they will. Even more difficult will be dealing with world leaders. Be afraid, Obama supporters. Be very afraid. Because your oratory hero is a big cry baby,–way too immature to lead this country. I hope enough people realize this, because WE NEED HILLARY to lead this country like a strong leader.

    January 29, 2008 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  7. ABC = Anybody But Clinton


    January 29, 2008 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  8. Edward Nelson, NY

    Barack Obama did the right thing when he turned his back on Hillary Clinton. What type of person smiles and shakes the hand of the person who took the wind out of their campaign? Historically, a strong presidential candidate has been one that campaigns; for themself! Hillary has Bill doing concession speeches and name calling. She supports what Bill has been saying and has yet to apologized for it. Noticeably, I found it interesting indeed that she would be wearing a demon red suit on the day that Senator Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy endorsed Obama. Hillary and Bill Clinton are out to divide, not unite.

    January 29, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  9. phyls esparza

    A wolf in sheep's clothing.... the Obama Meaning .......Someone who hides malicious intent under the guise of kindliness" = Obama.....

    Watch out Obama is another Bush, mark my words, no one thought that Bush would become the president he is......stubborn, new, likeable, stutters, shuffles, smirks and has wierd facial tics and winkles.....watch Obama.....same thing!

    A wolf in sheep's clothing!

    January 29, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  10. frank

    Solid snub in my book. John Edwards the only grown-up?

    January 29, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  11. Get some news

    I am tried of this election!!! Not of the canidates but the 24-hour news channels who run out of things to cover so they start doing stories like this. Get real CNN and all others, the only people who care about a sunb are children on the play ground!!

    January 29, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  12. Don

    Funny how some of you still try to make everything Hillary Clinton's fault. I know what really happend. Bill Clinton was holding Obama's arm down, so the Clintons could attack with this story.lol

    For all of you writing " who cares", guess thats how Clinton supporters felt the last month as media derailed her campaign and Obama supporters acted like any tidbit of negative news, real or not, was foder for debate.

    Obama made a mistake, one of many. The real story here is that people finally are hearing about it.

    January 29, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  13. Vic

    Boy what a shame. This is not new to most of us. CNN has been building up OBAMA and the next President and they have gone out of their way to start tension between the two candidates and effectively. Now they have to go back and do some reflection on their actions. Do they really want to support a childish individual like OBAMA?

    I think the media have had to much say so in this presidential race. We have had every commentator try to outdo each other with the so called "Debates" These guys wouldn't know what a debate is if it bit them in the face. They used these Debates to build their images and worth. I think they looked stupid in many cases. I we need to stop listening to their news conferences (they call them DEBATES) and allow the real people at Universities handle that.

    Thank you Hillary for being our Candidate.

    January 29, 2008 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  14. Deep Gupta

    Media – please give us a break. Print something worthwhile.

    January 29, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  15. Michael


    Is this is the Unity he plans?

    But he didn't mean to snub her. And the different spin stories coming from his camp prove it.

    First, he was giving Kennedy and Clinton a moment to themselves. Then, it was just an accidental gaze away at that exact moment. Then, he was answering a question from McCaskill.

    I'm sure he didn't mean to snub her, after all "she's likeable enough."

    January 29, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  16. Lynn

    Hillary doesn't have grace. She's a devious manipulator and liar.

    January 29, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  17. Fred, Toledo, Ohio

    Well, now we know how the American people are being hoodwinked by Obama in the so called politics of hope. If can't talk to your fellow Demcrat how then do yiu claim you will talk to Republicans. The cnn reporter made it clear that Obama turned away as soon he saw Hillary.

    January 29, 2008 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  18. jane

    I am really starting to lose respect for Obama, too. He willbe another bush and Ted.Kennedy will be another Cheney.

    January 29, 2008 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  19. LOL

    –CNN's Jessica Yellin

    Shame on you. This must have been your weekly "trash" quota-

    January 29, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  20. Tracy, Los Angeles, CA

    Barack is a child and this is childish behavior.

    January 29, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  21. stan pitts pa

    hey MICHAEL: Grow up! he turned over to speak to a senator and he had exchanged a friendly wave with HRC prior, haha hrc supporters desperate to tear obama down! He is the right man, for the right job, now!

    January 29, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  22. Terry

    Anybody every consider that most of you may be wrong? And that maybe there was no ill intentions from either Clinton or Obama? I know some of you will have us believe that you have a crystal ball that told you what both Clinton and Obama's true intentions were.

    January 29, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  23. BRR

    Is this woman reporting a story or writing an editorial? I thought it was supposed to be the former but it looks more like the latter and therefore should be clearly labeled as such.

    January 29, 2008 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  24. BobW Rochester, NY

    Hillary fans, "Me thinks thou doth protest too much" to quote Will Shakesphere. Hillary was approach Ted Kennedy not Obama and given Kennedy's endorsement, most likely Obama didn't want to get caught up in a potentially heated situation. I don't blame him.

    January 29, 2008 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  25. Paulo

    The Obama supporters are saying that this is not news and bashing CNN for reporting what they saw. I thnk that if it had been Hillary who snubbed Obama, he and all of the media would would have been out to get Hillary. It's about time that the media gives Obama the same coverage.

    Too bad for Obama, the coverage uncovered the truth about Obama. This is very important news because Obama is running on this very important premisse, which is to to unite people. It is CNN's responsibility to report what they saw, which is that Obama is not practicing what he preaches. We deserve to know the truth and to know that the person who we are electing as our president will be able to work with all, including those he does not like. Our country cannot afford another Bush.

    Hillary has the experience , the knowledge, the diplomacy , the strength and the confidence to work with all including those who may not like her. We have lots of foreigh enemies and we a strong president who will extend a hand and start a conversation, despite how unconfortable the situation may be.

    Hillary is my only choice.

    Boston, MA

    January 29, 2008 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
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