Biden's bizarre train story

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

This may not be the biggest breaking political news story of the year, but it’s certainly a strange tale that might give you pause when it comes to the question of precisely how well President Joe Biden’s memory is doing these days. The Daily Mail was among several outlets that decided to do some fact-checking of a speech that Uncle Joe gave in Philadelphia last Friday. They weren’t looking at any of his policy claims regarding the border crisis or the pandemic or anything else that’s been occupying our attention lately, however. Biden regaled the audience with one of his famous anecdotes from his long political career. As we all know, Biden prided himself on his regular train trips back and forth between Delaware and Washington, mixing in with the common folk and being a regular guy taking public transit. But in this story, Biden gave some specifics. He talked about a time during his fourth or fifth year as Vice President when a train conductor congratulated him on reaching 1.5 million miles on Amtrak while he was traveling to visit his sick mother. It’s one of those heartwarming stories of a regular American guy doing regular American things. But there were two problems with his story. First of all, the conductor he named had retired twenty years before that and his mother had passed away at least four years earlier.

President Joe Biden’s strange anecdote about reaching 1.5 million miles on Amtrak has come under scrutiny after key inconsistencies emerged that make it impossible to have occurred as he told it.

On Friday, delivering a speech in Philadelphia commemorating the 50th anniversary of Amtrak, Biden launched into the tale of a certain conductor congratulating him on reaching the milestone as he traveled to visit his sick mother.

Biden said the incident occurred in his ‘fourth or fifth year as vice president’, or around 2014-2015, at which time the conductor he named had been retired for 20 years and his mother had passed away, inconsistencies first pointed out by Fox News.

Not only had the conductor, Angelo Negri, retired in 1993, but he died in 2014.

What was it that prompted Fox News or anyone else to fact-check an anecdote about a train ride? It’s not the sort of information that reporters would normally track down. But in this case, perhaps it’s a good thing that someone took the time to look into it.

I’m not here to berate Joe Biden for “lying” about this or to imply that this somehow undermines anything he’s doing as President. As I’ve confessed here on many occasions, I can relate to some of these instances. Since getting into my sixties, I’ve had my share of “senior moments” when my memories of the past have developed some gaps and I occasionally call our pets by the wrong name. It happens to plenty of people as they enter their senior years. And Biden’s story wasn’t some case of bravado where he falsely claimed some distinguished honor. Racking up a lot of miles riding on Amtrack isn’t exactly the same as winning the Medal of Honor. As I said… I can relate.

But then again, I’m not the guy holding the codes for the nuclear football or making critical phone calls to allies and adversaries. When you’re the President of the United States, you are on call 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. A crisis could break out at any moment requiring fast action and executive decisions. We saw plenty of instances like this while Biden was campaigning for the Democrats’ nomination and even during some of his video broadcasts from his basement during the home stretch of the election.

Just how well is Joe Biden holding it all together these days? He rarely holds any lengthy Q&A sessions with the press or publicly engages in unscripted exchanges on camera. He generally sticks to prepared speeches and has a lengthy set of notes on the lectern when making public addresses. How is he doing when he’s in private meetings or on phone calls with foreign leaders or the top ranks of our military?

I’m not saying this is some sort of end of the world scenario. After all, we made it through Ronald Reagan’s second term without even learning that he was fighting Alzheimer’s at the time. As long as Joe Biden has trusted staffers at his side at all times I suppose things will work out in the end. But these traits should really be taken into consideration before Joe Biden makes a decision about possibly running for a second term. We’ve still got more than three and a half years to go on this term and it could turn out to be a bumpy ride.