White House defends Biden's claim his uncle was eaten by cannibals: 'We should not make jokes'


During his visit to a war memorial near his hometown in Pennsylvania, President Biden appeared to imply his uncle was eaten by cannibals after his plane was shot down during World War II.

“He flew single-engine planes, reconnaissance flights over New Guinea. He had volunteered because someone couldn’t make it. He got shot down in an area where there were a lot of cannibals in New Guinea at the time,” President Biden said. “They never recovered his body.”

On Thursday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre acknowledged that President Biden’s maternal uncle, Ambrose Finnegan, who he refers to as “Uncle Bosie,” did die in WWII when his plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean, but confirmed he was not eaten by cannibals, as Biden seemed to suggest on two separate occasions during his visit on Wednesday.

When asked about his comments on Friday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre claimed the President was having an “emotional moment” when he made his remarks.

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President Joe Biden

President Joe Biden speaks to the National Action Network Convention remotely from the South Court Auditorium of the White House, Friday, April 12, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

“The president had an emotional and I think a symbolic moment. He had an opportunity as president to honor his uncle’s service in uniform. He had an opportunity to be there as president, you know, to speak to people that put their lives on the line on behalf of this country,” Jean-Pierre said.

She went on to explain what Biden’s comment meant.

“So his uncle, who lost his life when the military aircraft he was on crashed in the Pacific after taking off near New Guinea. The president highlighted his uncle’s story as he made the case for honoring our sacred commitment to equip those we send to war and take care of them and their families when they come home,” Jean-Pierre said. “And as he reiterated, the last thing American veterans are or the last thing Americans should be called are suckers and losers. And those types of words should not come from a commander in chief, as we have in the past.”

Jean-Pierre’s last statement was in reference to former President Trump, who President Biden claimed called soldiers “suckers and losers.” 

Trump was alleged to have made the comments as he was set to visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery during a trip to France in Nov. 2018 while he was president.

The allegations, sourced anonymously in The Atlantic, described multiple offensive comments allegedly made by Trump toward fallen and captured U.S. service-members, including allegedly calling the World War I dead at an American military cemetery in France as “losers” and “suckers” in 2018.

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WH Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and President Joe Biden

During Friday’s WH press briefing, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to comment on the overnight unrest in the Middle East. (Getty Images)

“This is more made up Fake News given by disgusting & jealous failures in a disgraceful attempt to influence the 2020 Election!” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter about the comments made against him. 

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told “Fox & Friends”  that he was with the president for a good part of the trip to France. “I never heard him use the words that are described in that article,” Pompeo said.

Former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted that she was part of the discussion about visiting the cemetery. “This never happened. I have sat in the room when our President called family members after their sons were killed in action and it was heart-wrenching. … I am disgusted by this false attack.”

Fox News’ Peter Doocy continued to question Jean-Pierre about President Biden’s comments about his uncle, acknowledging that Second Lieutenant Ambrose Jay Finnegan was a war hero, but stating that the Pentagon said, for unknown reasons, the plane was forced to ditch in the ocean. 

“Both engines failed at low altitude. Why is President Biden saying he was shot down? There’s no evidence of that. And why is he saying that his uncle was eaten by cannibals? That is a bad way to go,” Doocy questioned.

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“He lost his life. It’s not. Look, I’m not, we should not make jokes about this,” Jean-Pierre said.

Doocy reiterated that it wasn’t a joke, but said again, that is what Biden said. 

“I mean, your last line is, it’s for a laugh, it’s for a funny statement. And he takes this very seriously. His uncle, who served and protected this country, lost his life serving. And that should matter. You have a president that lifts our U.S. troops, our American veterans every day. Who thinks about them? Who actually thinks they’re all heroes? And they are,” Jean-Pierre sparred back. 

Doocy asked one more time why he used the term “cannibalism” as Jean-Pierre gave her last comment.

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“I think you’re missing the point. The point is you have a president that lifts up American veterans, who lifts up our U.S. service members. And that’s what matters. He understands how critical and how important it is to be commander in chief,” Jean-Pierre finished. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 



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