The US President and British Prime Minister had a brief meeting at the White House on Tuesday, following the gathering at the UN General Assembly – and some of the topics that came up were pretty personal.
One thing Joe Biden is known for, apart from his consistent gaffes and spelling mistakes, is his love for trains.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson seemed to have played upon this passion during their bilateral meeting on Tuesday when he called Biden a “living deity on Amtrak” – the rail service which the US president used almost daily during his four decades in the US senate and Barack Obama administration.
Biden and Johnson were just in the middle of their conversation about cooperation in Afghanistan and in the Indo-Pacific, when the US president decided to thank his partner for making his way to the capital following the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.
“I just want you to know, Boris — you came down on Amtrak, is that right?” Biden clarified.
Johnson confirmed that he indeed boarded a train at New York’s Penn Station to travel to Washington DC.
“And you are a living deity on Amtrak, I can tell you,” the UK prime minister replied.
Biden then once again shared a story about how he was once approached by a New Jersey conductor, who told him that the then-vice president has overall travelled on Amtrak over 2 million miles throughout his political career, while commuting on a daily basis from Wilmington, Delaware to Washington.
“I thought they should name the railroad after me or something,” the US president added.
Johnson then rushed to remind Biden that Amtrak renamed its Wilmington station after the vice president in 2011:
“It’s big news there,” the prime minister said.
Biden’s legendary story about his conversation with an ordinary Amtrak conductor – which he repeated numerous times – had been previously scrutinised by the fact-checkers as the president kept changing details and particularities around the alleged exchange. Previously Biden used to say that the main star of the story was conductor Angelo Negri, who approached Biden in his fourth or fifth year of the vice presidency (so around 2013-2014) when he was travelling to Delaware to see his sick mum.
The conductor apparently told Biden that he read in the article that the then-vice president had travelled over 1 million miles on Air Force One [Two], which Negri said was nothing in comparison to his Amtrak miles record, which was some “1,515,000 miles”, according to Biden’s recollection of the events shared in late April.
However, Angelo Negri died in 2014, and had retired some 21 years before that. Biden’s mother passed away in 2010, so it’s unlikely that he was going home to see her deep into his vice presidency, which he assumed a year before that.
Moreover, Biden just physically could not reach the million-miles mark on Air Force Two until September 2015, according to his official vice-presidential photographer. There are just so many things about the story that simply don’t add up, including the math, the timing and the names of people involved.
But at least this time Biden didn’t mention the late conductor by name.
The shared love for infrastructure was not the only topic of discussion between the two world leaders, who also touched upon the controversial AUKUS defence pact, climate change and free travel to the US for vaccinated Britons.
Journalists, however, were expelled from the meeting quite promptly and unexpectedly, with the Oval Office staffers interrupting Johnson’s speech mid-sentence – something that created quite a furour on social media.