When President Joe Biden passingly said in a voting rights speech last week that he had been “arrested” in the context of the civil rights movement – even suggesting this had happened more than once – it was a classic Biden false claim: an anecdote about his past for which there is no evidence, prompted by a decision to ad-lib rather than stick to a prepared text, resulting in easily avoidable questions about his honesty.
Biden’s imaginary or embellished stories about his own history were the most memorable falsehoods of his first year in office. They were not, however, the only ones.
The President also made multiple false claims about important policy matters, notably including three subjects that occupied much of his time: the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the economy and the Covid-19 pandemic.
And Biden was incorrect on numerous occasions when ad-libbing about a wide assortment of facts and figures – sometimes in a way that appeared inadvertent, but other times in a way that helped him make a political point.
Unlike his uniquely dishonest predecessor, Biden did not bury fact-checkers in a daily avalanche of serial falseness. Biden never came close to making a dozen false claims in a single speech, let alone five dozen false claims in one address, as Trump once did. In fact, the total number of Biden false claims so far is in the dozens, while Trump delivered well over 1,000 total false claims in his own first year and more than 3,000 the next year.
So Biden is no Trump. With that said, dozens of false claims from the President of the United States is not nothing. And considering that Biden added dozens more claims that were misleading or lacking in important context, he provided more than enough material to keep fact-checkers on their toes.
Here is a roundup of Biden’s first year in inaccuracy. The White House declined to comment for this article; it has previously commented for individual fact checks on some of the false claims we are discussing again below.
False claims about his own past
Biden made a series of claims about his own past that were just not true. It was these easy-to-understand, hard-to-defend personal falsehoods – more than his false claims about complex policy issues or obscure statistics, which supporters could more easily dismiss as good-faith errors – that provided the best ammunition for opponents looking to portray him as deceptive.
And like some of Trump’s tall tales about his past, Biden’s tended to be peripheral to his message. In other words, he was hurting his reputation for little possible gain.
While talking in November to technical college students standing near a truck, Biden claimed, “I used to drive a tractor-trailer,” though only for “part of a summer.” This was similar to something he had said at a Mack Trucks facility in July, when he claimed, “I used to drive an 18-wheeler, man,” adding, “I got to.” There is no evidence Biden ever drove a big truck; the White House previously noted to CNN that he once had a job driving a school bus (which is not an 18-wheeler or a tractor-trailer) and that, as a senator in 1973, he spent a night riding in a cargo truck (not driving it).
Biden repeatedly told a story about a supposed conversation during his vice presidency with an old friend, an Amtrak train conductor, that could not possibly have happened because the man was dead at the time. He repeatedly boasted that he had traveled “17,000 miles” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, though that number is not even close to correct.
Biden distracted from his voting rights message with the baseless claim last week, which he had made before, about having been arrested during a civil rights protest; in some of the previous versions of the story, he had merely claimed a police officer had taken him home from a protest. (There is evidence Biden participated in some civil rights activities in his youth but no record of any arrest.)
And Biden told two different inaccurate stories while trying to emphasize his connection to the Jewish community.
At a September event in honor of the High Holy Days, Biden told Jewish leaders that he remembered “spending time at” and “going to” Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, the site of an antisemitic massacre in 2018; he had spoken by phone to the synagogue’s rabbi in 2019 but never went. At a Hanukkah event in December, Biden claimed that late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir had invited him to meet with her during the Six-Day War of 1967 (he actually met with her weeks before the Yom Kippur War six years later) and, more significantly, that she had wanted him to be “the liaison between she and the Egyptians about the Suez, and so on and so forth.”
There is zero evidence Meir ever wanted to use a 30-year-old rookie US senator as a “liaison” with a major adversary.
False claims about Afghanistan
Biden was bedeviled over the summer by his chaotic withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. And he made a variety of false claims as he tried to defend his handling of the situation – further undermining his authority on an issue on which he was already struggling to persuade the public.
In August, the President said, “What interest do we have in Afghanistan at this point, with al Qaeda gone?” Al Qaeda had been degraded in Afghanistan, but it wasn’t “gone” – as a Pentagon spokesman acknowledged on camera that same day. In an interview that week, Biden defended the US withdrawal in part by claiming that the concept of nation-building in Afghanistan “never made any sense to me” – though, in fact, he had explicitly advocated nation-building in the early years of the war, both in Afghanistan and more broadly.
In July, when Biden was under pressure to quickly relocate Afghans who had assisted US troops, he said “the law doesn’t allow” Afghan translators to come to the US to await the processing of their visa applications. But experts in immigration law immediately said this wasn’t true, given the administration’s authority to grant “parole,” and, indeed, the Biden administration ended up using parole later in the summer to do what Biden had claimed wasn’t permitted.
In December, Biden said in another interview that “I’ve been against that war in Afghanistan from the very beginning.” While he eventually grew opposed to the war, he was not against it from the start – as fact-checkers pointed out when he had made similar remarks during his presidential campaign.
False claims about the economy
The state of the economy was a key rhetorical battleground between Biden and his critics: He argued it was thriving; they argued it was failing. And although both sides often cited valid data points, the President also made some false claims to bolster his case.
Biden occasionally overstated progress and understated problems. Asked at a CNN town hall in July about inflation in automobile prices, he claimed that the cost of a car was “kind of back to what it was before the pandemic”; the cost had actually increased substantially since late 2019 and early 2020. In an economic speech in November, he greatly exaggerated the extent of the decline in the unemployment rate during his tenure.
To try to sell his economic policies, Biden sometimes made inaccurate statements about what experts had said about them. In May alone, he falsely claimed that there was a consensus among economists about how many jobs his American Jobs Plan would create, significantly overstated how many jobs the firm Moody’s Analytics in particular predicted the plan would create and falsely claimed that the last five leaders of the Federal Reserve had said the plan would produce economic growth – wrongly describing both the contents and the authorship of an article that was actually written by five former Internal Revenue Service chiefs.
Later in the year, Biden misleadingly framed another Moody’s jobs estimate. And he repeatedly omitted the key phrase “longer-term” from an assertion by Nobel-winning economists that his $1.9 trillion Build Back Better agenda would “ease longer-term inflationary pressures” – leaving Americans to believe that these economists might have said his agenda would reduce the inflation hurting their bank accounts today.
False claims about the Covid-19 pandemic
Many of Biden’s first-year speeches were devoted to the Covid-19 pandemic. Biden was almost incomparably more accurate on this subject than Trump was, tending to factually convey the severity of the situation rather than match his predecessor’s fantastical rhetoric about how bad numbers were not actually bad numbers and how the virus would just disappear.
But Biden made a smattering of false claims on this topic, too.
At the CNN town hall in July, Biden made the inaccurate categorical promise that “you’re not going to get Covid” if you’re vaccinated. It was clear even before the emergence of the Omicron variant that vaccinated people were still getting infected with the virus, though the vaccines made them much less likely to get seriously ill; vaccinated people on the President’s own staff had been infected. Biden also went too far at the town hall when he categorically pledged that “if you’re vaccinated, you’re not going to be hospitalized, you’re not going to be in the ICU unit and you’re not going to die”; these outcomes happen, too, though they are much less common among vaccinated people.
Biden sometimes exaggerated on the subject of his administration’s work to get Americans vaccinated – misleadingly playing down the Trump administration’s own vaccine purchases and, in May, overstating how the US vaccination rate compared with those of the rest of the world. And he made various errors in discussing pandemic-related facts and figures.
In February, Biden claimed that “suicides are up” amid the pandemic; experts said at the time that the claim was premature, and it turned out to be wrong (though suicide rates did increase for some specific demographic groups). In October, the President wrongly told Americans that there were “over 800,000” vaccination sites in the country; he had added an extra 0 to the correct figure he usually used, 80,000.
False claims in unscripted settings
When Biden stuck to prepared speeches vetted by his staff, he tended to be factual (though certainly wasn’t perfect). When he ad-libbed or participated in unscripted exchanges with journalists and citizens, he was more likely to sprinkle in inaccuracies – making false or misleading claims about everything from his handling of the situation at the southern border to Virginia political history to gun laws to the size of a tax break for people who own racehorses.
During Biden’s first 100 days in the Oval Office, he was repeatedly incorrect or misleading in describing the actions of the Trump administration.
And he made one particularly notable misleading claim during that early period. At a heated moment of the national debate over Georgia Republicans’ new elections law, Biden did a television interview in which he criticized the law in part by misstating what it says.