The Biggest Moments in the First 2024 Presidential Debate (2024)

Awkward exchanges, personal jabs, and falsehoods dominated the first presidential debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump on Thursday in Atlanta.

The evening saw Biden and Trump go back and forth on the topics at the top of many Americans’ minds—abortion, inflation, immigration, and climate, among others. The two candidates for the highest elected office in the U.S. also took time to call each other “whiners” and “complainers,” while trading jabs on stage at their opponent’s age, mental alertness, and even golf skills.

Here are the biggest moments from the night.

Biden’s stumbles

President Biden’s performance at the debate was the subject of much scrutiny. Just mere minutes after the debate started, Biden’s voice appeared raspy and at times he completely rambled off on a nonsensical tangent. (Biden allies have claimed he’s recovering from a cold.)

Read More: Trump’s Debate Strategy: Let Biden Bury Himself

The 81-year-old Biden took a lengthy pause while talking about Medicare. At one point when moderators asked Biden questions on immigration and border security, he appeared to misspeak while concluding his statement, giving Trump an opportunity to retort: “I really don’t know what he said at the end of that sentence, and I don’t think he knows what he said either.”

Read More: Calls for Biden to Step Aside Are About to Get Deafening

Biden and Trump, 78, are the two oldest major party candidates for U.S. President, and their ages have become liabilities, with some polls questioning—particularly about Biden—their effectiveness as leaders.

Trump and Biden clash over abortion

The candidates took swings at each other when asked where they stood on abortion. Biden committed to restoring Roe v. Wade—the landmark Supreme Court decision that gave Americans the constitutional right to an abortion in 1973 but was overturned in 2022. Trump, meanwhile, applauded the repeal of Roe, and falsely claimed that the Biden Administration would “take the life of the baby in the ninth month, and even after birth.”

Trump’s comments prompted outrage from reproductive rights advocates online, many of whom pointed out that abortions don’t happen “after birth”—that would be infanticide, a crime in every state. And abortions later in pregnancy are very rare.

Trump took credit for the overturning of Roe, pointing out that he appointed three of the Supreme Court justices who sided with repealing the ruling—which Biden lambasted him for. Trump also claimed that “everybody” wanted Roe to be overturned so that states could make their own laws on abortion—which Biden called “just ridiculous,” citing many scholars who supported Roe when it was first decided.

Criticism over CNN’s lack of fact-checking

Throughout the 90-minute debate, the candidates lobbed claims related to inflation, border crossings, and abortion policies—many of which were untrue or misleading.

For instance, Trump said that “all of these people coming in,” in reference to migrants who have entered the U.S. through the Southern border, would “destroy Social Security.” Politifact previously fact-checked this claim, which Trump has mentioned on the campaign trail, as false.

Read More: Our Exclusive Interview with Donald Trump

When asked about Trump’s plan to address the climate crisis, Trump also falsely said that he had the “best environmental numbers ever,” even though he pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords. Meanwhile, Biden claimed that no troops died under his watch, but 13 U.S. service members died in a suicide bombing attack at the Kabul International Airport during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

CNN had said before the debate that moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash would not be providing real-time fact-checking, opting to let the candidates speak. (CNN did post fact-checks online.)

But critics took to social media to call for better fact-checking during the event to combat misinformation. “This debate is meaningless without fact-checking,” wrote one user on X. “It’s just a big, free national platform for Trump to spout whatever he wants with a veneer of respectability,” the user added in a follow-up tweet. Others said the lack of on-air fact-checking was an “enormous disservice to democracy.”

Trump calls Biden a “bad Palestinian

Moderators pressed Biden about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where more than 20,000 children are missing, according to a recent report. Five Americans also remain under hostage control by Hamas.

The U.S. has stood by Israel, Biden said when asked about possible solutions to end the war. He added that Hamas has to be eliminated but that “you’ve got to be careful” about using certain types of weapons in Palestinian population centers. Meanwhile, Trump was critical about the billions spent by the U.S. on foreign conflicts before saying that the U.S. should let Israel “finish the job.”

“He’s become like a Palestinian,” Trump said of Biden. “They don’t like him because he’s a very bad Palestinian. He’s a weak one.”

Read More: Our Exclusive Interview with President Joe Biden

The issue has been contentious among many Americans—prompting calls for a ceasefire and student protests across numerous college campuses, while also generating conversations about anti-semitism in the country.

When asked whether Trump would support an independent Palestinian state, Trump simply said, “I’d have to see.”

Golf match

In an attempt to challenge the competency of his opponent, Trump questioned Biden’s golf abilities when asked about concerns over his own capability to serve.

“He can’t hit a ball 50 yards,” Trump claimed, after saying he himself aced two cognitive tests.

“You can see he is six-foot-five and only 225 pounds,” Biden responded facetiously. “Just look at what he says he is, and take a look at what he is.”

Biden also said he would be happy to compete against Trump, so long as they carried their own golf bags. “I got my handicap,” Biden said, referring to his average best score (above par), “when I was Vice President, down to a six.”

“That’s the biggest lie—that he’s a six handicap—of all,” Trump said. “I’ve seen you swing.”

Trump, who was criticized during his presidency for the amount of time he spent at his golf courses, took to Truth Social to share a short clip of him playing the sport.

Mentions of Trump’s criminal conviction—and Hunter Biden’s

Trump’s recent felony fraud conviction in relation to hush-money payments made to adult-film actor Stormy Daniels—the first criminal conviction of any former U.S. President—was briefly but hotly brought up during the debate by both Trump and Biden.

“The only person in this stage [who] is a convicted felon is the man I’m looking at right now,” said Biden, in the first mention of Trump’s conviction more than 45 minutes into the debate, as the two candidates accused each other of having poor responses to the violence during the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riots and the protests that broke out after the killing of George Floyd.

“When he talks about a convicted felon, his son is a convicted felon at a very high level,” Trump responded, referencing Hunter Biden, who was found guilty earlier this month for lying about his drug use when buying a gun in 2018.

When Biden later brought up Trump’s legal battles, including his affair with Daniels, Trump denied having “sex with a p*rn star” and said that his hush-money case, which he claimed was presided over by a “terrible” Democratic judge, would be “appealed and won.”

Trump says Ukraine would not have been invaded if he were President

More than two years since Russia first invaded Ukraine, with deaths in the hundreds of thousands, moderators asked Trump if he agrees with the conditions Russian President Vladimir Putin set—Ukraine abandoning its NATO bid and Russia keeping four of the Ukrainian territories it has annexed—before Moscow stops its assault on the eastern European state.

Trump said those conditions were “not acceptable” but that he would have settled if he were President while not providing specifics. Trump also suggested that the chaotic end of the U.S. occupation in Afghanistan—which saw thousands of Afghans trying to escape from the Taliban and U.S. service members killed outside the airport in Kabul during the exodus—encouraged Putin to start the war in Ukraine.

“If we had a real President, a President that was respected by Putin, he would have never invaded Ukraine,” Trump said. “The difference is [Putin] never would have invaded Ukraine, never, just like Israel would have never been invaded in a million years by Hamas. You know why? Because Iran was broke with me.”

Biden—whose administration has backed Ukraine through consistent military aid packages—stood firm against Putin: “The fact is that Putin is a war criminal. He’s killed thousands and thousands of people. And he has made one thing clear: he wants to reestablish what was part of the Soviet empire, not just a piece. He wants all of Ukraine. That’s what he wants. And then you think he’ll stop if he takes Ukraine?”

The legacy of Jan. 6

Former President Trump evaded questions about the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, downplaying his role in the devastating 2021 riot and denying that he failed to uphold his oath to defend the Constitution.

“On Jan. 6, we had a great border… On Jan. 6, we were energy independent, we had the lowest taxes ever, we had the lowest regulation ever,” Trump said, adding that the U.S. was “respected all over the world.” Trump then doubled down, saying the reputation of the U.S. has been tarnished under Biden’s leadership and claiming that he wanted his supporters to act “peacefully and patriotically” on Jan. 6.

Biden responded by saying that Trump encouraged his supporters to attack the U.S. Capitol.

“I could see what was happening. Everybody was saying they’re going to be there on Jan. 6, they’re going to be there. And I said, ‘You know what? There’s a lot of people coming.’ You could feel it,” Trump said. “You could feel it, too, and you could feel it. And I said they ought to have some National Guard or whatever.”

Trump is currently facing four federal charges for his involvement to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Trump will accept the results—“if it’s a fair and legal and good election”

Moderators asked Trump about a “specific concern” that many voters have regarding him: whether he would pledge to accept the results of the 2024 election, regardless of the winner, and condemn “political violence in any form.”

“Well, I shouldn’t have to say that, but of course, I believe that it’s totally unacceptable,” Trump replied. “But the answer is—if the election is fair, free, and I want that more than anybody.”

The former President went on a long tangent about how he wished Biden was “a great President,” because then he wouldn’t have to be on the debate stage running for election again. He said Biden is “so bad as a President” that America is “a failing nation,” criticizing Biden’s military policies and accusing him of dragging the U.S. “closer to World War III.” The two candidates then traded jabs back and forth, prompting moderators to intervene and to repeatedly press Trump on whether he would accept the results of the election.

“If it’s a fair and legal and good election, absolutely. I would have much rather accepted these, but the fraud and everything else was ridiculous,” Trump asserted. “There’s nothing I’d rather do. It would be much easier for me to do that than running again. I wasn’t really going to run until I saw the horrible job he did. He’s destroying our country. I would be very happy to be someplace else.”

The Biggest Moments in the First 2024 Presidential Debate (2024)


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