Fact check: Biden twice repeats his false ‘Joey, baby’ story about a deceased Amtrak conductor

President Joe Biden has a charming personal story he likes to insert into speeches in which he is discussing Amtrak, the rail service he used for decades as a US senator to commute between Washington and his home state of Delaware. Biden has publicly told the story at least 11 times as president, including twice on Monday at a rail-funding announcement in Delaware.

The problem is that the story is not true – as CNN and others have been pointing out for more than two years now.

On Monday, Biden told the story to a group of Amtrak workers and then in a speech in which he touted his administration’s $16.4 billion investment in passenger rail projects in the busy Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston.

Biden said in both recitations that when he was vice president, an article was published about how he had flown 1.2 million miles. In the speech, he specified that the milestone was 1.2 million miles traveled on Air Force planes as vice president.

He told the group of workers that after the article came out, he got on an Amtrak train one Friday to visit his mother, who was dying at the time, and an Amtrak worker named Angelo came up to him, grabbed his cheek in view of Secret Service personnel – “I thought they were going to shoot him” – exclaimed, “Joey, baby,” and scoffed, “big deal” at the air travel milestone.

According to Biden, Angelo, whom he previously identified on multiple occasions as conductor Angelo Negri, told him that “the guys” had done their own calculations at a retirement dinner and determined that he had traveled more miles on Amtrak trains than he had on the government planes. “I don’t [want to] hear any more about Air Force stuff,” Biden recalled Negri as saying. The workers laughed.

Facts First: Biden’s story is false in two ways. First, he could not possibly have had this exchange with Negri: He 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, Biden’s mother was not dying at the time he reached the million-miles-flown mark. In fact, she had died more than five years prior.

It is not clear exactly when Biden hit the 1.2-million-miles flown mark as vice president, but that point was obviously even further removed from the deaths of his mother and Negri.

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 party for Negri in his Senate office when Negri retired from Amtrak in 1993.

Nonetheless, Biden has been telling an untrue story about his late friend for more than two years. We wrote in 2021 that the president might have been misremembering the details of a real conversation he had with Negri or mixed up Negri with another Amtrak employee he spoke to in 2015 or 2016. After numerous fact checks, however, the president has now had ample time to correct himself.

The White House did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment; it never responded to an August request for comment after Biden told a version of the Negri story in a speech in Milwaukee. When Karine Jean-Pierre, now the White House press secretary, was asked in 2021 about reports that the story 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.”

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