Biden defends faulty telling of military heroism story

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Thursday defended his faulty description of a tale of military heroism and his interactions with the service members who carried it out.

The "essence" of his recollection is correct, the former vice president told a South Carolina newspaper Thursday after a Washington Post story detailed how an emotional anecdote Biden told recently while campaigning in New Hampshire contained inaccuracies.

Biden's telling appeared to conflate multiple events, yielding a single story of Vice President Biden pinning a Silver Star on a U.S. Navy captain in the Konar province of Afghanistan for his efforts trying to save another service member. In his latest telling of a story he's varied over several years, according to the Post, Biden got most of the details wrong: There's no military record of that specific ceremony, and Biden's records as a senator show he traveled to Konar when he was Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman and before he was vice president.

Biden and his aides countered that the anecdote's fundamental point — that as vice president he once formally recognized the valor of a heartbroken solider who didn't want the recognition because his fellow solider ultimately lost his life — is true.

"The central point is it was absolutely accurate what I said," Biden told The Post and Courier newspaper of Charleston, South Carolina, hours after the Post published its story. "He refused the medal. I put it on him, he said: 'Don't do that to me, sir. He died. He died.'"

Indeed, The Post account quoted Staff Sgt. Chad Workman recalling that he received a Bronze Star from Biden at Forward Operating Base Airborne in Wardak province, Afghanistan, on Jan. 11, 2011. Workman confirmed Biden's account, adding that Biden treated him with empathy.

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Former Vice President Joe Biden participates in the second of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Wednesday, July 31, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Democratic presidential hopeful Former Vice President Joe Biden (L) looks onv as US Senator from California Kamala Harris speaks during the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JULY 31: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) (L) and former Vice President Joe Biden speak during the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre July 31, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. 20 Democratic presidential candidates were split into two groups of 10 to take part in the debate sponsored by CNN held over two nights at Detroit’s Fox Theatre. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JULY 31: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) (L) raises his hand while former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre July 31, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. 20 Democratic presidential candidates were split into two groups of 10 to take part in the debate sponsored by CNN held over two nights at Detroit’s Fox Theatre. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopefuls US Senator from New Jersey Cory Booker (L) and Former Vice President Joe Biden participate in the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful Former Vice President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks during the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopefuls Former Vice President Joe Biden and US Senator from California Kamala Harris speak during the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful Former US Vice President Joe Biden is seen on a TV screen during the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopefuls Former Vice President Joe Biden (L) and US Senator from California Kamala Harris chat during a break in the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopefuls US Senator from New Jersey Cory Booker (L) and Former Vice President Joe Biden participate in the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopefuls Former Vice President Joe Biden (R) and US Senator from New Jersey Cory Booker chat during a break in the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopefuls Former Vice President Joe Biden (R) and US Senator from New Jersey Cory Booker chat during a break in the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful Former Vice President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks during the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JULY 31: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) (R) speaks while former Vice President Joe Biden listens during the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre July 31, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. 20 Democratic presidential candidates were split into two groups of 10 to take part in the debate sponsored by CNN held over two nights at Detroit’s Fox Theatre. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) / ALTERNATIVE CROP (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopefuls Former Vice President Joe Biden and US Senator from California Kamala Harris speak during the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JULY 31: Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden (L) speaks while Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) listens during the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre July 31, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. 20 Democratic presidential candidates were split into two groups of 10 to take part in the debate sponsored by CNN held over two nights at Detroit’s Fox Theatre. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful former Vice President Joe Biden looks down during the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful former Vice President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks during the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful former Vice President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks during the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopefuls Former Vice President Joe Biden and US Senator from California Kamala Harris speak during the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopefuls former Vice President Joe Biden and US Senator from California Kamala Harris speak during the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) / ALTERNATIVE CROP (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful former Vice President Joe Biden blows a kiss ahead of the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful US Senator from California Kamala Harris (R) looks on as Former Vice President Joe Biden blows a kiss ahead of the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JULY 31: Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) (L-R), former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. (D-CA) take the stage at the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre July 31, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. 20 Democratic presidential candidates were split into two groups of 10 to take part in the debate sponsored by CNN held over two nights at Detroit’s Fox Theatre. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JULY 31: Democratic presidential candidates former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) greet each other at the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre July 31, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. 20 Democratic presidential candidates were split into two groups of 10 to take part in the debate sponsored by CNN held over two nights at Detroit’s Fox Theatre. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JULY 31: Democratic presidential candidates former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) greet each other at the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre July 31, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. 20 Democratic presidential candidates were split into two groups of 10 to take part in the debate sponsored by CNN held over two nights at Detroit’s Fox Theatre. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the second of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Wednesday, July 31, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks on the second night of the second 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Detroit, Michigan, July 31, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
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The accounts represent a growing conundrum for Democrats. Their 2020 front-runner is hinging his campaign on the propositions that President Donald Trump is a serial liar and a fundamental threat to the nation and that Biden, a 76-year-old veteran of U.S. politics and world affairs, offers his party the best hope of victory.

But Biden is also repeatedly subjected to media scrutiny, social media derision and quiet grumbling from his rivals over his penchant for verbal missteps, a cacophony that fosters questions about whether he is indeed the best Democrat to send into a general election campaign against Trump.

Biden rejected those questions, telling the Post and Courier they are "ridiculous."

Veteran Democratic strategist David Axelrod said the episode speaks to two well-known attributes of Biden: his liability as undisciplined and his strength as one who empathizes with those in pain.

Axelrod doesn't see it as particularly damaging, but notes such episodes, should they continue, could answer one of the central question facing Biden: Is he up to the intellectual rigors of being president?

"Where it becomes problematical is if It's seen as evidence of some sort of decay," said Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama. "That is obviously a danger. Anything that raises those concerns is problematic. I don't think this is the one that could tip the scales."

Biden's supporters this week in South Carolina have been unfazed by any mounting criticism — particularly in comparison to Trump, who regularly misspeaks and has treated truth casually since he first launched his campaign in 2015.

"Look at Trump, a habitual, sinister liar," said Dawn Deboskey, a 57-year-old from Anderson, South Carolina. "The vice president is absolutely on point, discussing every issue in a knowledgeable way. I have zero concerns."

At the campaign town hall where Deboskey came to see Biden, the candidate opted for a humorous defense against those who question whether he's still up for the job. On education, he opted against offering detailed numbers when talking through his usual riff on the need for more social workers.

Offer a number and turn out to be wrong, Biden said, "and the press will say Biden's losing his mind. He can't remember."

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