President Joe Biden made three false claims about his own past in a Tuesday speech in Milwaukee.
The speech was focused on the economy and the Inflation Reduction Act the president signed into law one year ago Wednesday, and his economic claims in the prepared address were almost entirely accurate. But he also peppered in three false personal anecdotes, including two that have previously been debunked, continuing his habit of inaccurate ad-libbing about his biography.
In addition, Biden repeated one false and previously debunked political boast. As he did earlier this year and during the 2022 midterm elections, he wrongly asserted that he has significantly reduced the national debt, which has actually increased significantly during his presidency. He was once again mixing up the debt with the deficit; the White House made a correction in the official transcript, as it previously did with a transcript in February when Biden did the same thing.
Here is a fact check on his Tuesday remarks.
Biden has long been known as a devotee of Amtrak, the train service he used during his 36 years as a US senator to commute between Washington and his home in Delaware. At least nine times as president, he has told a vivid personal story about a conversation he claims to have had during his vice presidency with an Amtrak conductor named Angelo Negri.
Except, as CNN pointed out in 2021, that conversation could not possibly have happened – because Negri was deceased at the time the conversation would have had to have taken place.
In the version of the story Biden told on Tuesday, he said that in the sixth or seventh year of his vice presidency, a newspaper headline announced that he had traveled almost 1.2 million miles on Air Force planes. He said that when he then was “getting on a train to go home and see my mom, who was sick and in hospice in my home,” a man he identified as “Ang,” his nickname for Negri, “comes up and goes, ‘Joey, baby,’ and grabs my cheek.” Biden said he thought the Secret Service was going to shoot Negri.
Biden then said: “And I said, ‘No, no, no, no.’ I said, ‘What’s the matter, Ang?’ He said, ‘We just – I read this thing about…over a million miles on Air Force planes.’ He said, ‘Hell, you know how many miles you traveled on Amtrak?’ I said, ‘No, Ang. I don’t know.’ He said, ‘We just had a retirement dinner up in Newark.’ He said, ‘You traveled a hundred – an average 117 days a year, round trip, 300 miles a day, 36 years. That’s 1,285,000 miles. I don’t want to hear any more about the Air Force!’”
The crowd reacted with laughter and applause, and Biden said, “True story, I swear to God.” But it isn’t a true story.
Facts First: Biden’s story is false in two ways. First, as CNN and others have pointed out before, he could not possibly have had this exchange with Negri: Biden did not reach the million-miles-flown mark as vice president until September 2015, according to his own past comments, but Negri had died more than a year earlier, in May 2014. Second, as CNN has also noted before, Biden’s mother was not sick at his home at the time he hit the million-miles-flown milestone. In fact, she had died more than five years prior.
Negri’s stepdaughter, Olga Betz, told CNN in 2021 that Negri and Biden were indeed friends. She said Negri “adored” Biden and spoke of how Biden was “very thoughtful and personable with the conductors; knew them all by name.” She also provided a photo of Biden hosting a retirement party for Negri in his Senate office in 1993.
Nonetheless, Biden has been telling a false story about his late friend for more than two years. We wrote in 2021 that Biden might have been misremembering the details of some real conversation he had with Negri prior to Negri’s death in 2014 or mixed up Negri with another Amtrak employee he spoke to in 2015 or 2016. After numerous media fact checks, however, he has now had ample time to correct himself.
The White House did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment for this article. When Karine Jean-Pierre, now the White House press secretary, was asked in 2021 about reports that Biden’s story about Negri was inaccurate, she said, “I haven’t seen that. But the President’s long history with Amtrak and appreciation for the hardworking employees is very well known.”
Biden also repeated a version of a family anecdote he told in April. He said Tuesday that his grandfather, who had worked as an oil company executive, died just days before he was born himself in the same hospital.
“And, by the way, my Grandpop Biden, who died very young – he was – died in the hospital I was born in six days before I was there, I mean before I was born,” Biden said.
Facts First: Biden’s claim is false in two ways, as conservative media outlets pointed out in April when Biden said his grandfather “died in the same hospital I was born in two weeks before I was born.” His paternal grandfather who had worked in the oil industry, Joseph Harry Biden, died in a hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, in September 1941; the president was born more than a year later, in November 1942 – and at a different hospital, in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Biden’s maternal grandfather, Ambrose Joseph Finnegan, did die at the Scranton hospital where the president was born, but in 1957, when the president was 14 years old.
Touting his administration’s investments in infrastructure projects around the country, Biden invoked a 2022 bridge collapse in Pittsburgh – and claimed that he personally saw the bridge fall.
“A lot of you were with me when I was in Pittsburgh. And, by the way, the – Pittsburgh is the ‘City of Bridges.’ More bridges in Pittsburgh than any other city in America. I watched that bridge collapse. I got there and saw it collapse. With over 200 feet off the ground, going over a valley, and it collapsed,” Biden said.
Facts First: It’s not true that Biden “got there and saw it collapse.” The collapse occurred before 7 a.m. on January 28, 2022, more than six hours prior to Biden landing in the Pittsburgh area for a scheduled visit that included a speech about the economy and infrastructure. He visited the site of the collapse after 1 p.m. that day.
So Biden could have accurately said that he witnessed the damage from the collapse. But his statement that “I got there and saw it collapse” is not true.
Biden claimed, “And unlike the last president, in my first two years in office, even with all we’ve done – I’m the first one to cut the federal debt by $1 trillion $700 billion.”
Facts First: This is false, as the White House implicitly acknowledged in the official transcript by striking through the word “debt” and replacing it with “deficit.” As CNN noted in February, when Biden made a near-identical claim, Biden has not reduced the national debt (the accumulation of federal borrowing plus interest owed); in fact, the national debt has increased from about $27.8 trillion on Biden’s first day in office in 2021 to about $32.7 trillion today, though it’s important to note that debt increases are not solely the fault of any current president. It is the federal deficit – the one-year difference between spending and revenues – that declined by roughly $1.7 trillion between fiscal 2020 and fiscal 2022, from about $3.1 trillion to about $1.4 trillion.
And the debt-versus-deficit mix-up is not the only issue with Biden’s claim.
As CNN has repeatedly noted, it is highly questionable how much credit Biden deserves for the $1.7 trillion decline in the deficit, since the decline happened overwhelmingly because emergency pandemic spending from the end of President Donald Trump’s administration expired as planned. In fact, independent analysts say Biden’s own new laws and executive actions have significantly added to current and projected future deficits, not reduced those deficits.