Fact Check: Biden Supposedly Said He Was Vice President 'During the Pandemic.' Here's What We Found

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U.S. President Joe Biden said in May 2024, "When I was vice president, things were kinda bad during the pandemic."


Rating: Correct Attribution
Rating: Correct Attribution


If one assumes Biden was referring to the COVID-19 pandemic, his statement was obviously incorrect because he was not vice president at any point during that pandemic (Mike Pence was). Some have suggested Biden must have been referring to the 2009 swine flu pandemic, which did occur during his vice-presidential tenure, but according to the official White House transcript of his 2024 remarks, he actually meant to say "things were kinda bad during the recession."


After U.S. President Joe Biden gave a speech in May 2024, in the run-up to the November presidential election, social media users quickly started to share the claim that he had mistakenly said he was the nation's vice president "during the pandemic."

The Daily Beast and Fox News reported on the apparent blunder, noting that Biden's vice presidential term — during Barack Obama's administration — ended years before the COVID-19 pandemic began in the U.S. in early 2020, when Donald Trump was president. (His vice president was Mike Pence.)

Those reports were correct. Moreover, Biden's gaffe was recorded on video, and the White House released a transcript soon afterward that acknowledged the error. Therefore, we have rated this claim "Correct Attribution."

Biden made the remark during a speech at the NAACP Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner in Detroit on May 19, 2024:

"My dad was an automobile manager. Detroit put food on our table every night. Oh, not a joke. Not a joke. And when I was vice president, things were kinda bad during the pandemic. And what happened was, Barack said to me, 'Go to Detroit! And help fix it.' Well, [the] poor mayor, he spent more time with me than he ever thought he was gonna have to."

Detroit news station WXYZ uploaded the full video of Biden's speech, in which Biden says he was vice president during the pandemic at the 1:20 mark:

Most of the posts sharing the video clip, in which Biden could clearly be heard making the statement, prompted widespread discussion and scrutiny across various platforms, including Reddit and X. On TikTok, One America News shared the clip, highlighting Biden's gaffe, which prompted viewers to communicate their confusion. The TikTok account PowerfulMinded, which also posted the video, emphasized Biden's admitted tendency to mix up details in his speeches. CharpMedia also shared the clip, which received numerous comments questioning Biden's memory and cognitive state.

Snopes sought comment from the Biden campaign, which directed us to the White House Briefing Room's amended transcript of the president's entire speech and remarks in Detroit. Here is the snippet, including Biden's verbal blunders (he also apparently said "organization" when he mean "award") and corrections by the White House:

Huntington Place Convention Center

Detroit, Michigan

THE PRESIDENT: I want to thank Reverend Anthony for that introduction.  I tell you what, I measure the significance of an award based on the character and the consequence of those organizations bestowing it.

And I love Detroit for three reasons.  Number one, my dad was an automobile manager.  Detroit put food on our table every night.  (Applause.)  Oh, not a joke.  Not a joke.

And when I was vice president, things were kind of bad during the pandemic [recession], and what happened was Barack said to me, "Go to Detroit and help fix it."  Well, poor mayor, he spent more time with me than he ever thought he was going to have to.  (Laughter.)  God love you.


THE PRESIDENT:  Folks, I'm humbled to receive this organization [award], which defines the character and consequence of what we do.  I'm always grateful to Derrick Johnson, the leadership for the NAACP.  (Applause.)

Of course, thanks to all the members of the biggest NAACP branch in America — in Detroit.  (Applause.)

According to the corrected transcript, Biden had meant to say the word "recession" instead of "pandemic."

To clarify, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the COVID-19 pandemic began in the U.S. in January 2020, during the Trump presidency. Biden served as vice president for two terms under Obama, from January 2009 to January 2017. A different pandemic, the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic, did occur during the first year of the Obama/Biden administration, but the correction in the White House transcript indicated that wasn't what Biden was speaking of.

This incident added to the errors that have characterized some of Biden's public speeches, often leading to discussions about the 81-year-old's age. Critics argue that such mistakes undermine his credibility as president, while supporters suggested these are minor slip-ups that do not detract from his overall leadership and policy direction.

Questions about Biden's tendency to misspeak have swirled for a long time. While speaking in Montana in December 2018 during a stop for his book tour, Biden himself said he was a "gaffe machine."

So, because Biden did say that he was vice president during the pandemic and the statement was widely confirmed by multiple sources as well as video footage of the event, we rated this claim "Correct Attribution." While he did say he was vice president "during the pandemic," his statement was factually incorrect unless he was speaking of the swine flu pandemic of 2009, which the White House transcript indicates was not the case.

Snopes has previously written about Biden's verbal gaffes — including the time he falsely stated he was arrested as a kid while standing with a Black family during a desegregation protest, and his false claim that inflation was at 9% when he took office. Snopes also has covered Trump's verbal gaffes, including the time he falsely stated rival GOP candidate Nikki Haley was in charge of security during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, and the time he mistakenly said Obama's name when he was referring to Biden.


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