President Joe Biden is fond of using anecdotes from his past to explain his actions, but one such rhetorical flourish raised eyebrows last week when he said that his house had once burned down with First Lady Jill Biden inside.
On 16 November, Mr Biden was in Woodstock, New Hampshire to discuss how his $1.2trn bipartisan infrastructure legislation would fund repairs to the 82-year-old Pemigewasset River Bridge when he appeared to recall a catastrophic housefire at his Delaware home.
The bridge, he said, “saves lives and solves problems” and is relied upon by public services such as the nearby fire station.
“Without this bridge, as I said earlier, it’s a 10-mile detour just to get to the other side. And I know, having `had a house burn down with my wife in it — she got out safely, God willing — that having a significant portion of it burn, I can tell: 10 minutes makes a hell of a difference. It makes a big difference,” Mr Biden said, adding later that “every minute counts” when responding to emergencies.
The incident the president referred to as his house burning down was actually a far smaller fire which occurred in August 2004 while thunderstorms were ripping through the Eastern seaboard. According to the Wilmington News-Journal, future First Lady Jill Biden called 911 to report that a bolt of lightning had ignited a fire in the kitchen of the Biden’s home. Ms Biden’s call brought about a response from five different fire companies, who were able to extinguish the blaze before it spread further.
Cranston Heights, Delaware fire chief George Lamborn told the Associated Press that the fire “was under control in 20 minutes”.
“Luckily, we got it pretty early,” he said.
Mr Biden, who over three decades in the senate built a reputation as a master raconteur, has occasionally found himself in hot water after telling stories on the campaign trail that later require correction or clarification. One such incident occurred in 1988, when the first of his three presidential campaigns came to an abrupt end after it became known that his stump speech had cribbed lines from a speech by Lord Kinnock, the former Labour Party leader.
The discrepancy between Mr Biden’s recall of the 2004 fire and the reality of what happened did not escape notice of prominent conservative news outlets.
Prominent right-wing outlets have frequently seized on such exaggerations to paint Mr Biden as preternaturally dishonest and characterise them as equivalent to false statements made by his predecessor, Donald Trump, on such subjects as treatments for Covid-19 and the actions which led to his first impeachment for abuse of power and obstructing congress.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Independent.