AP FACT CHECK: Biden tale of Amtrak conductor doesn’t add up

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is spinning a convoluted tale of an Amtrak conductor who congratulated him during his vice presidency for logging more miles riding the train home to Delaware than by flying on Air Force Two.

“I apologize because some have heard this,” Biden told a crowd Monday in New Jersey, starting up a story he has repeated in various forms at least five times, dating back to the 2020 campaign.

“I swear to God. True story,” he said Monday, for emphasis.

But it’s a mangled one.

By his own accounting, Biden’s Amtrak miles over the years only surpassed his Air Force Two miles after the conductor who supposedly informed him of that fact had died. Moreover, the conductor had retired about two decades before the conversation Biden claims to have had with him while boarding a train.

BIDEN: “I commuted every single day, 263 miles a day, on Amtrak from the time I got elected United States senator. As a matter of fact, when I was vice president, I used to like to take the train home when my mom was very sick and dying, and I’d come home every weekend to make sure I’d take the train home. …

“And I’m getting on one Friday, and then one of the senior guys on Amtrak, Angelo Negri — I got to know all the conductors really well; they became my friends. … And Ang walks up to me and goes, ‘Joey, baby!’ Grabs my cheek. And I thought the Secret Service was going to blow his head off. … I said, ‘What’s up, Ang?’ He said, ‘Joey, I read in the paper — I read in the paper you traveled 1,000 — 1.2 million miles on Air Force planes’ — because they keep meticulous tabs of it. I said, ‘Yeah.’ … He said, ‘You know how many miles you traveled on Amtrak, Joey?’ And I said, ‘No.’ He said, ’The boys and I figured it out … He says, ‘You travel 2 million…’ — I think it was 180, but — ‘2,200,000 miles.’

“I said, ‘How did you get that answer?’ He said, ‘Well, 267 miles a day. We figured you traveled 119 days a year for 36 years, and then you traveled as vice president.’ And then he goes, ‘So, Joey, I don’t want to hear this about the Air Force anymore.’”

THE FACTS: The tale as Biden spins it is wrong. Negri could not have had that conversation because he was already deceased by the time Biden logged 1.2 million miles on Air Force Two.

Biden refers to a train ride he made to Delaware when he was vice president and his mother was sick and dying. He explains it happened shortly after he had flown 1.2 million miles, spurring Negri’s comment about his mileage on Amtrak in comparison. On previous occasions when Biden has told the story, he’s also indicated that it all happened around his “fourth or fifth year” as vice president — or 2012-2013 — although in a rendition of the story told to a crowd in Scranton, Pennsylvania, last week, Biden suggested it was in his seventh year, which would be 2015.

In any event, Biden’s mother, Catherine Eugenia “Jean” Finnegan Biden, died in 2010, well before the middle of his vice presidency.

It’s plausible that Biden logged 1.2 million train miles as vice president by early 2016, based on accounts around the time by Biden and David Lienemann, the vice president’s official photographer. But Negri had long retired as an Amtrak conductor, in 1993, and died in May 2014.

Biden made Amtrak trips between Washington and his home in Delaware on most days as a senator when Congress was in session so he could help raise his sons. The Amtrak round trip is actually 220 miles or 354 kilometers, not over 260 miles (418 km) as he described it.

It is well possible that he had some warm conversations with Negri, and his stepdaughter told CNN the two were friends. It’s also possible that Biden spoke with another Amtrak conductor in late 2015 or early 2016 after his apparent milestone on Air Force Two.

But Biden distorts the timeline in a way that makes the story false. He’s been telling it, with variations, with more frequency as he pitches his infrastructure plan. Monday’s remarks were at New Jersey Transit’s rail maintenance facility in Kearny.

Biden’s tale has drawn repeated criticism from conservative groups. When asked to square the facts in May, White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said she wasn’t familiar with the details.

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EDITOR’S NOTE — A look at the veracity of claims by political figures.

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