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. Bob

    I'd bet 90% of those who commented here do not know enough about Clinton's or Obama's healthcare or economic or energy policy positions. Trivia like this is juicy precisely because it has no substance and it does not take much intelligence or effort to have an opinion on it. Got to love the American electorate.

    January 29, 2008 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  2. brian

    i like how CNN cropped out the female senator Obama was talking to just to stir up some dirt.

    January 29, 2008 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  3. Kevin

    I dunno why my comments were misposted up the top but I think Obama was in the wrong. So petty!

    January 29, 2008 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  4. Jimmy, Oklahoma Feb. 5th

    The ALL Boy's Club otherwise known as the ESTABLISHMENT, yea you know who I am talking about, Kerry, Daschle, Leahy, and now Kennedy. The very men that Obama was campaigning against. I guess one will say or do anything to become President. You do not get those four with out giving something up. Sure they do not want to work for any women either.

    Senator Clinton my first Choice, Senator McCain my second. Sorry Obama, men like the ones above make me want to change parties. Not issue's but parties. I really wish our party was not becoming as divided as it has become. I thought better of you then to go down this road. DESPERATION.

    Hey AL Sharpton "SHUT YOUR BIG MOUTH" you are a very racist person and the world knows it. Yes black people too can be racist.

    January 29, 2008 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  5. dbh

    Forget who subbed who. Instead, both candidates missed a critically important messaging opportunity. Hillary and Obama should have agreed in advance to sit together. This would have sent the most powerful signal of all: Regardless of our differences, we are united when it comes to solving the important issues that the country faces.

    January 29, 2008 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  6. Missouri gal

    Obama is turning a lot of heads preaching change. What change???? He never goes beyond that. At least we all know where Hillary stands. I just don't see Obama doing anything at all but create confusion. I am very disappointed of my Senator Claire McCaskill throwing her support to Obama. Believe me, I will remember that at her reelection time. Besides, she isn't dointg anything anyway. She was another one that preached change and is not doing a thing.

    January 29, 2008 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  7. farid shakur

    What can be said, i think Mr Obama is alittle hurt by the Clintons false or ingenuine posturing and acusations of his past and no longer wants her friendship. This is what politics does to people. Mr Obama has this country at heart he must because you got to be insane to give your precious time on this earth to a setup that is steaped in unforgiven history .

    January 29, 2008 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  8. gggrrr

    Who cares about Kennedy? He supported the loser Kerry. And now is supporting the soon to be loser nominee Borat Obama.

    January 29, 2008 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  9. Obama is God

    Obama is GOD. All u mere mortals quiver at his approach. He does not need to show this stupid woman respect. She's just a girl, but he is our savior. Ted Kennedy whose dignity and grace have no bounds, has annoited him and bathed him in the righteous path. Barak will command us and bring about change. Just listen to the beautiful words he says. And to be fair, she was ill tempered and mean to him in the debates. She is a mean, cold, evil women. He does not need to lower himself to shake her hand, he is a GOD! The Republicans will not attack him as nastily as she has, they will respect and fear him. Anyone who questions Obama is a racist as best and a evil demon at worse. All praise Hussien Obama. He can teach us so many things.

    January 29, 2008 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  10. sally

    This reminds me of high school- who turned what direction in the hall...who is speaking to whom..................
    As long as the American public pays attention to these manipulated non-stories, we ain't gonna git to the real stuff................too bad.............

    January 29, 2008 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  11. sharon

    When I read this article it dissapoints me. This is the man that many want to be our President and represent our country? How are we supposed to create peace in other countries if we can not create peace in our own homeland?

    January 29, 2008 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  12. Dr. C

    Okay readers, I saw the entire event on my new HDTV and could see all the nuances, facial expressions, and all. Not one to support Hillary Clinton, nor Obama for that matter, I can say in all candor that it was a snub by Obama when Kennedy and Hillary shook hands. Obama did exactly what the reporter relayed – as soon as he saw them moving toward one another he looked away to the back of the room. It's the facts and my new HDTV wouldn't lie.

    On another note, Obama, whatever you do, please don't get in a car with Teddy driving. His past performance is a predictor of his future performance if you get my drift.

    See ya,
    Dr. C

    January 29, 2008 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  13. Isabella

    Like I said-I don't care about the picture. I am just scared if Obama wins, especially after reading his autobiography-his looking for his identity. He shows an obvious distaste for any white who holds power(his father and grandfather were civil servants to the white man). The only time he acknowledges white power is when his hand is out.
    If Hillary were just for the female gender, I would feel the same. I would rather vote Republican, then vote for Obama, who renounced his white heritage and stood by his black, even though his father deserted him and his mother, to marry a third wife.
    The Kennedy's do not influence me-any "clanship" went with John and Bobby.

    Let's face it-all of them have skeletons in their closets. Politics is all about money. But I want experience and someone with a backbone, as my President. And I see that in Hillary-she is scared of no one.

    January 29, 2008 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  14. Elaine, Atlanta

    Enough is enough, so what??

    January 29, 2008 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  15. Henry

    Unfortunately our news media has misjudged this situation as indicated by Mr. Obama this morning. Foks lets be honest if someone lied about you continuously, misrepresented you record, and intentionally played the race card on you to pull support awar from you How would you feel. I believe Mr. Obama, but....... I would have a hard time being nice after both husband and wife attacked me unduly. Come on folks.........

    January 29, 2008 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  16. Olan Hill

    Since Hillary has had to experience and suffer from the over-exaggerated statements made by Bill Clinton over the last week (promted primarily by the press), it's only fair that Barrack get the same treatment. Call it "tit for tat" if necessary.

    January 29, 2008 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  17. nancy Hnat

    This is ridiculous. I would love to know how many of you self righteous hypocrites have ever had a picture taken and not be aware of what is going on around you. Has this campaign turned into the National Enquirer where photos are taken and lies are written. This makes me sick. How low we stoop and how stupid we can be. Stop this nonsense and let's grow up.

    January 29, 2008 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  18. George

    Obama has a challenger in Hillary and he cant even face up to her and shake her hand...hmmm....will he turn his back on other challenges and problems he has...i think that was a rude and callous way for Obama to behave. He should have been gracious and should have shaken her hand and given that 1000 watt bipartisan smile of his and got her to sit next to him....isnt that what he says he will accomplish!

    January 29, 2008 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  19. Vince Los Angeles, CA

    January 29, 2008 3:43 pm ET

    OMG……you women should stop crying!!! Geez! HRC was endorsed by Maxine Waters today…so you all can stop crying about how much Obama won SC because of the "black vote" (which is such an incredibly naive thing to believe anyway)……

    I am laughing at all the HRC supporters hanging onto the thin thread of hope (irony that) that HRC will somehow "crush" Obama come Feb 5th……since none of you is the least bit politically savvy….let me "break it down" for you poor saps….

    Feb 5th will come and go…HRC will probably garner the majority of votes but the DELEGATES will be split 3 ways between HRC, Obama and Edwards….Edwards doesn't have a chance but you are crazy if you think he's going to drop out! EDWARDS IS GOING TO DELIVER HIS DELEGATES TO OBAMA IN EXCHANGE FOR EITHER A VICE PRESIDENCY OR PLATFORM COMMITMENT. He'll blackmail Obama into actively pursing one of Edwards' platform agendas…..

    Ted Kennedy just crowned Obama King…….you all should just sit back and enjoy the ride….!


    January 29, 2008 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  20. Kathleen

    CNN cut the baloney and just report the news. The media can make gold from horse manure. Just put your "best political team on TIV" to work doing what they do best.

    January 29, 2008 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  21. Nigel Harrison


    On the money. When an article like this gets so much attention we in America deserve the worst of the worst as our leaders ala Bush-clinton-Bush.

    Political literacy in this country is beyond laughable – but what should we expect from a nation that spends more time focused on Britney's break down, Anna Nicole Smiths death and other trivia than it does on real issues like the amount of needless deaths from baseless wars.

    An education system that sees most children above grade 4 languishing compared to other countries or the fact that
    since 1949 the U.S. has given Israel a total of $83.205 billion. The interest costs borne by U.S. tax payers on behalf of Israel are $49.937 billion, thus making the total amount of aid given to Israel since 1949 $133.132 billion. – disgusting, we deserve the results of what we sow and don't stand up against.

    January 29, 2008 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  22. OMG

    This is the last time I will ever post on the CNN site again. Talk about ridiculous, petty journalism.

    If people allow an image of some silly millisecond in time and one person's slant on the situation to form their voting decision and opinion of a presidential candidate, we have even more serious problems in this country than I had imagined.

    If you were there or had seen the entire incident on video, you may have a valid opinion. Does it really matter that much anyway?

    CNN just lost my respect and interest. Wonder how long this will hang in the otherworld of moderation...

    January 29, 2008 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  23. ps


    January 29, 2008 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  24. Donna

    For all those who say that because Hillary's treatment of Obama has been so mean and nasty that they too would have turned their back and not shook her hand, you are not running for President. We might be excused for acting like petulant children but presidential decorum demands that our leaders rise above and reach out. You can also look at the photo and make up your own story about what was going on, but my understanding is that at least five journalist witnessed what was going on and all interpreted it the same way–she was snubbed and disrespected. Still deciding who I will vote for but this incident along with "you're likable enough" definitely is something I will look at as well as some of Hillary's misleading statements.

    January 29, 2008 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  25. Dennis

    I fail to see the big deal. Hillary didn't come over to speak to Obama. She was talking to someone else, and then people around Obama reached out to talk to her. It doesn't seem like she went out of her way to talk to him either.

    This is just another mole hill getting turned into a mountain while real issues are ignored.

    January 29, 2008 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
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