U.S. President Joe Biden, right, holds a bilateral meeting with Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. (Nicholas Kamm – AFP / Getty Images)
By Isa Cox September 22, 2021 at 3:59pm
Another day, another gaffe made by President Joe Biden before a major world leader. What else is new?
While meeting with United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday, Biden told one of his favorite stories about one of his favorite topics: Amtrak.
It wasn’t a particularly noteworthy moment as far as banal chatter between foreign leaders goes, except for one, small problem.
Despite Biden having previously recounted the mildly interesting anecdote on more than one occasion, it’s been exhaustively debunked and probably never happened.
While meeting with Johnson in the Oval Office, Biden told Johnson he’d heard he had traveled to the White House on Amtrak, which Johnson confirmed that he had.
Biden happily proceeded to tell a story “that has nothing to do with anything,” although, of course, it had to do with Amtrak, and it was clear Biden had brought up Johnson’s means of travel for the sake of telling his amusing anecdote.
“When I was vice president, the Secret Service didn’t like me traveling on Amtrak because there were too many options for people to cause trouble along the way. But I insisted I do it,” he continued.
He went on to explain that once, the papers had run a headline that he had traveled over 1,350,000 miles on Air Force Two.
Is Biden’s cognitive health declining?
“So I’m walking up to get on the train on that Friday and a guy, who was the number three guy from New Jersey on seniority as a conductor, walked up to me and grabbed me and goes like this, ‘Joey baby!’ and grabs my face. I thought the Secret Service was going to shoot him and I said no, no, he’s a friend,” Biden continued as the media pool laughed.
He explained that the man had apparently seen the headline about his mileage on Air Force Two and asked him, “Do you know how many miles you’ve traveled on Amtrak,” reminding the then-vice president that the two of them had “worked it out” at “the retirement dinner,” presumably referring to the former conductor’s.
“You’ve traveled over 2 million miles, big deal!” the man then reportedly told him after explaining the figure, based on the number of trips he would have taken during his 36 years in the Senate and “x number of years” as vice president, as Biden apparently couldn’t be bothered to remember how many years he’d been serving as VP at the time.
In fact, there’s a lot more about this story that Biden seems to have gotten wrong, as the New York Post detailed Tuesday.
He’s told this story twice before, previously identifying the man as one Angelo Negri, who sadly passed away in 2014 … which happens to have been a full two years before Biden passed the 1.3 million mileage mark on Air Force Two, which he reportedly did in 2016.
In his telling of the story in May at the 50th anniversary of Amtrak, that version included a living Negri who specifically mentioned that Biden had traveled “1.3 million miles” on the vice-presidential aircraft, which he said at the time had been toward the end of his term. So in previous retellings, Biden seems to have been fully aware of the timeframe of his story.
In the Tuesday version, Biden also said that Negri had told him he traveled over 2 million miles on Amtrak; back in May, it was just 1.5 million miles.
As for “the retirement dinner,” it’s unclear what on earth the apparently imaginary Negri was referring to, but the real Negri retired in 1993, so if the two had calculated Biden’s mileage on the rails of Amtrak upon his retirement, it wouldn’t have included calculations of 36 years in the Senate nor his years serving as vice president.
There’s no telling if Johnson, who politely laughed before graciously returning the dialogue to the sorts of things that dignified heads of state usually say to each other, knew if Biden’s story didn’t add up, but the members of the media who were present certainly should have.
The story has been the subject of more than one fact-check, including from CNN, which reported in June that Biden “keeps telling” the debunked story as he has done since early on in his 2020 presidential campaign.
“Biden was friends with the Amtrak conductor at the center of the story, Angelo Negri. But Negri had been dead for more than a year — and had been retired for more than two decades — before the earliest moment they could conceivably have had the supposed conversation Biden keeps describing,” the fact-check succinctly stated.
While it’s not the first remarkable fib Biden’s told — he’s had to admit he never got arrested in South Africa while trying to meet Nelson Mandela, and the White House had to confirm he never visited the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh after a deadly shooting in 2018 — what adds a very conspicuous layer of weirdness to this story is to consider why he keeps telling it.
He’s already been known as “Amtrak Joe” for decades and there’s certainly no living politician who is more famous for their train travels than our current president, so the story doesn’t exactly lend anything to his already formidable reputation as a high-profile Amtrak passenger.
It’s not like Biden is the first elderly person to tell a slightly unbelievable story on more than one occasion — but Biden, of course, is not your average elderly person.
He’s the leader of the free world.
Yet more and more, the evidence of senility seems to outweigh any indication of strong leadership.
We were routinely told when former President Donald Trump was in office that he was mentally unstable and a liar and needed to be removed from office as he was posing an existential threat to our country and the world as a whole.
Yet now we have a president who tells debunked stories over and over again in addition to routinely getting confused, lost and worrying that he’ll get in trouble with his handlers?
This man is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the United States military and leader of the full breadth of our national and global security and intelligence forces.
If the office of the presidency is so important that Trump’s mean tweets were putting the entire global community at risk, what are we supposed to think with a man like Biden in office?