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. Bruce

    LOL – to be a uniter of change, this a great message of how one can't stand to look past one's ego... if elected how can he bring about change if he can't speak to people who challenge and put pressure on him? Kind of sounds like what we have now... speaking of, less than 360 days till he is gone!

    January 29, 2008 12:48 am at 12:48 am |
  2. Jeri Hys

    My comments are such: Oprah can't buy me a president and Ted Kennedy needs to sit back down and retire. Many of the Kennedy's proved themselves not to be role models to this country . They were basically "celebrities" with no moral or political boundaries, whatsoever. I lived through the entire Kennedy years and know what a short memory this country has. People need to look for glamour and celebrity to make a decision. Barack Obama could have reached out to just about anyone else to back him in this election. I have lost respect.
    I am personally sick and tired of all the polliticking that has gone on since W got into office. I firmly believe that there should be a law that candidates for office can begin their run 9 months to 1 year prior to an election. Most people have already decided who they will vote for. This has gone on way too long! My vote as a woman will go to Hillary. She is the only candidate that will ensure women's rights will not be tampered with over the next 4-8 years.

    January 29, 2008 12:48 am at 12:48 am |
  3. Tyler in Raleigh

    Kids say (and do) the darndest things. Its like watching them at a playground.

    January 29, 2008 12:48 am at 12:48 am |
  4. Grace, Overland Park, Kansas

    from the picture it looks like obama doesn't even know clinton is standing a few feet behind him. weird. i always heard the presence of evil is palpable (just kidding). in all seriousness there were a few people separating them, i don't think it was intentional.

    and why did the article have to mention that Langvin was in a wheelchair from age 16? does that fact in any way affect what he has been able to do in politics? I think not.

    January 29, 2008 12:48 am at 12:48 am |
  5. bob white

    Ahh...no more Mr. Nice Guy?

    I guess the cheerful guy who wants to united us is for a loss without his teleprompter.

    January 29, 2008 12:48 am at 12:48 am |
  6. eddie

    What a gentleman is???? If you elect this man, the country will be polarized deeper and deeper.

    January 29, 2008 12:49 am at 12:49 am |
  7. LOL

    This is easily the most worthless entry so far.

    January 29, 2008 12:49 am at 12:49 am |
  8. Hannah

    Relax, nobody should expect these two to be on friendly terms with one another since they've both essentially called one another liars and/or worse. It's unfortunate but that's the way things have turned out. I'd prefer this to them faking a smile just for a photo-op. In the end who cares? It's not going to change anyone's mind.

    January 29, 2008 12:49 am at 12:49 am |
  9. sy globerman

    Wake up. It's not against a woman being elected. It's strictly the Hillary and the Clinton record of power for powers sake.
    Most of America would vote for the right woman in a heartbeat, if we agree with her policies and trust her character.
    Hillary doesn't posess either of those requirements. A woman will be President someday and it more likely will be one that runs on the Republican ticket.
    I don't feel that Obama is sufficiently qualified to become President, but he would be my choice over Hillary, a hater of the military and disdainful of staff in general.

    January 29, 2008 12:50 am at 12:50 am |
  10. Californian

    A typical loser....grow up Senator Obama.

    January 29, 2008 12:50 am at 12:50 am |
  11. ddt

    it showed how naive senator Obama is

    January 29, 2008 12:51 am at 12:51 am |
  12. Ben

    Seems to me like Barack is remaining above the fray.

    Personally, if I were running for office and an ex-president from my own party started slinging mud my direction, I doubt I could be as civil.

    The Clintons need to wake up and realize that getting themselves in the history books (again!) is not worth ruining the dem's chances for the white house.

    January 29, 2008 12:51 am at 12:51 am |
  13. V

    Barack has snubbed Hillary in every debate and televised event where they have both been in attendance. And each time I have seen Hillary extend her hand to Barack, as she does with everyone, and he so rudely turns around without acknowledging. Love to see how he will treat members of the other party, or even his own, when they don't play the way he likes. Again, just demonstrating Barack's political immaturity. Or could it be that he doesn't respect a woman running against him?

    January 29, 2008 12:51 am at 12:51 am |
  14. Bea, Hoboken, NJ

    What a jerk!!!

    Hey Barack, you obviously have forgotten that Hillary campaigned for you, raised funds for you and was someone you sought advice from during your first year in thesenate.

    So much for that message of hope & unity.....................

    January 29, 2008 12:52 am at 12:52 am |
  15. Margarita




    January 29, 2008 12:52 am at 12:52 am |
  16. Ron

    I think it illustrates at that particular moment in time a more magnanimous side of Sen. Clinton, and a rather self-absorbed side of Sen. Obama. Here's a note to Sen. Obama: You're not the nominee yet, sir, so please discontinue acting as such. Perhaps a bit of humility would go far for you?

    January 29, 2008 12:52 am at 12:52 am |
  17. eddie

    How shame call him a uniter????

    January 29, 2008 12:53 am at 12:53 am |
  18. Shane

    why are my comments awaiting moderation. Are you going to censor them?

    January 29, 2008 12:54 am at 12:54 am |
  19. Lightning

    Wow. CNN with such in depth, important coverage as always.

    Give me a break. This is like reporting on Edwards' and Clinton's "secret meeting."

    January 29, 2008 12:54 am at 12:54 am |
  20. Cody, Iowa City, Iowa

    Wow. He can't stand up to HRC, how is he going to stand up to China or al Qaeda?

    January 29, 2008 12:54 am at 12:54 am |
  21. D.V.E

    I don't think Jessica was reading too much into it. She is reporting what she saw.

    January 29, 2008 12:55 am at 12:55 am |
  22. jershom

    On MSNBC news, one of the commentator said "This is Obama's ungrateful act", CNN I bet won't see it this way. While Kennedy has just endorsed Obama, Hillary at least shook hands with him and acknowledged his presence. Obama, on the other hand, turned away and pretended that he didn't see Hillary.

    January 29, 2008 12:55 am at 12:55 am |
  23. tom from california

    Very true

    January 29, 2008 12:56 am at 12:56 am |
  24. erica

    If he can't figure out what to do in an awkward moment with Clinton, how the heck is he going to deal with awkward moments (read: hard) with world leaders as President? Always have someone to rescue him?

    January 29, 2008 12:57 am at 12:57 am |
  25. Patrick

    I guess you can make a story out of anything. I'm wearing socks right now.

    January 29, 2008 12:58 am at 12:58 am |
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