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President Joe Biden signed three documents at the U.S. Capitol shortly after being inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2021. Vice President Kamala Harris is at Biden's left. (AP) President Joe Biden signed three documents at the U.S. Capitol shortly after being inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2021. Vice President Kamala Harris is at Biden's left. (AP)

President Joe Biden signed three documents at the U.S. Capitol shortly after being inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2021. Vice President Kamala Harris is at Biden's left. (AP)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher January 29, 2021

It's not clear what Biden said while signing document

If Your Time is short

  • It is not clear from a video clip that accompanies the post what Biden, who wore a mask, briefly muttered while signing official documents on his first day as president.

  • No credible news organizations reported what the Facebook post claims he said during the ceremony, which was broadcast live.

  • Experts who enhanced the audio from the video told PolitiFact it is not clear what Biden said.

Extending a line of attack made during the 2020 presidential campaign on Joe Biden’s mental fitness, a post widely shared on Facebook claims that the president said while signing a document: "I don’t know what I’m signing." 

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

The post includes a video clip from a signing ceremony broadcast live in the Capitol less than 90 minutes after Biden became president. 

Enhanced audio from the video indicates that Biden, who was wearing a mask and speaking softly, said sign, or a version of sign, among a few other words. But the other words are not clear. 

Experts who enhanced the audio told PolitiFact that Biden used the word sign or a form of sign, but it is not clear what he said.

The video clip

The 15-second clip shows Biden seated at a desk signing documents while wearing a face mask for COVID-19 protection. What appears to be a CNN logo is in the upper-right corner of the screen. Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both of California, are standing well behind Biden; Vice President Kamala Harris is standing at the end of the desk to Biden’s left.

The words "Volume all the way up listen close" are superimposed on the screen as Biden prepares to sign a document. He mutters a few words, but what he says is not clear. 

"I don’t know what I’m signing," reads a caption across the video. "Signs it anyways."

The International Business Times based a news story on the clip and social media reaction to it, also claiming that Biden said "I don’t know what I’m signing.’" 

Featured Fact-check

We found no evidence that that is what Biden said.

Enhanced audio results

Biden signed three documents, including an Inauguration Day proclamation, at the event. Separately, he signed 17 executive actions, including directives that reverse course from the Trump administration on immigration, climate change and other matters. 

Live C-SPAN video of slightly more than one minute shows the signing ceremony was held in the President’s Room at the Capitol. We sent links to the Facebook post and the C-SPAN video to experts who enhanced the audio in the video. They said they couldn't make out what Biden said, other than he used the word sign or signing.

Biden "definitely isn't saying, 'I don't know what I'm signing,'" said Hany Farid, professor in Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences and the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, whose research specialties include digital forensics. "I believe that he is saying, 'I like what I'm signing here.'"

Denis Teyssou, editorial manager of the AFP Medialab, said it is not clear what Biden said.

The White House did not respond to our request for comment.

Our ruling

A Facebook post with a video clip claims Biden said, "I don’t know what I’m signing," while signing a document.

Biden was wearing a mask and speaking softly while he signed official documents on his first day as president. Experts who enhanced audio from the clip said it is not clear what Biden said, though it likely included the word "sign."  

Without evidence to back the claim, we rate it False.

Our Sources

Facebook, post, Jan. 25, 2021

C-SPAN, "President Biden Signing Ceremony," Jan. 20, 2021

PolitiFact, "Geriatrics experts say Brit Hume’s claim that Joe Biden is ‘senile’ is wrong," Oct. 1, 2020

Associated Press, "On day one, Biden targets Trump policies on climate, virus," Jan. 20, 2021

Fox News, "Biden signs slew of executive orders upon entering presidency," Jan. 21, 2021

PBS, "WATCH: In first act, Biden signs official proclamations," Jan. 20, 201

International Business Times, "Biden Caught Saying 'I Don't Know What I'm Signing' Before Signing Executive Order," Jan. 26, 2021

Email, Denis Teyssou, editorial manager, AFP Medialab, Jan. 28, 2021

Email, Catalin Grigoras, director and associate professor, National Center for Media Forensics, University of Colorado Denver, Jan. 27, 2021

Email, Hany Farid, professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences and the School of Information, whose research specialties include digital forensics, Jan. 27, 2021

CNN, "Biden participates in signing ceremony at Capitol," Jan. 20, 2021

PolitiFact, "Social media users push evidence-free claim that Joe Biden repeated instructions from earpiece," Jan. 22, 2021

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It's not clear what Biden said while signing document

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