Decision 2024

Key takeaways from Trump, Biden's first 2024 presidential debate

From abortion to the economy, both candidates largely stayed to their usual talking points, but leaned in heavily on the personal attacks.

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President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump came face-to-face for their first presidential debate of the 2024 election on Thursday in Atlanta, Georgia.

From Biden's COVID-19 response to Trump's legal woes, both candidates squared off for 90 minutes on an array of topics in a debate hosted by CNN which included new podium rules intended to keep the candidates centered on the issues.

Here are key takeaways from the first of the two scheduled presidential debates before Election Day on Nov. 5th:

First impressions are everything

Presidential debates are often scored on style and impression more than substance. Throughout the debate, Trump appeared more composed and confident, repeatedly hammering Biden on key issues such as abortion and immigration.

Trump's supporters have seemed unconcerned about his relationship with the truth, and his performance and delivery helped him. Biden's supporters consistently express concern about the president's age and capacity and he did little to reassure them.

Biden was often halting, his voice started hoarse and his throat appeared raspy, which furthermore affected the effectiveness of his responses.

At times, Biden made some puzzling non sequiturs that seemed to undercut what the campaign has said are his strong points, including the economy and abortion rights. As Biden critiqued Trump's economic record, the president suddenly pivoted to Afghanistan and how Trump "didn’t do anything about that" — although the botched withdrawal of Afghanistan is widely considered one of the lowest points of Biden's presidency.

Later, as Biden singled out state restrictions on abortion, he confusingly pivoted to immigration and referred to a “young woman who was just murdered” by an immigrant. It was unclear what point he was trying to make.

“It was a really disappointing debate performance from Joe Biden,” former Biden communications director Kate Bedingfield told CNN.

A clash over the economy

Surprising no one, one of the most mentioned topics in the debate was inflation and the jobs market, where Trump repeatedly attacked Biden on his administration's handling of the job market and historically high inflation.

"I gave him a country with no, essentially no inflation. It was perfect. It was so good, all he had to do is leave it alone. He destroyed it," Trump added.

Pandemic-related stimulus policies put in place by both Trump and Biden were blamed, in part, for the rise in the inflation rate, according to NBC News.

Meanwhile, Biden blamed Trump for the economy he inherited in 2021, arguing his administration has tried "to put things back together," after the former president's early COVID-19 policies.

"There was no inflation when I became president," Biden responded. "You know why? The economy was flat on its back."

However, Biden added “there’s more to be done" and that his administration is "working to bring down the price around the kitchen table, and that’s what we’re going to get done.”

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the inflation rate when Biden took office in January 2021 was 1.4% but shot up to about 9.1% in June 2022 before coming down to 3.3% in May 2024.

Abortion rights

Reproductive rights and the repeal of Roe v. Wade were also big topics throughout the debate.

When asked if he would ban abortion medication, Trump responded he would not, adding he supported the recent Supreme Court decision to preserve access to mifepristone.

"First of all, the Supreme Court just approved the abortion bill, and I agree with their decision to have done that," Trump said. The Court recently ruled that the backers of a lawsuit seeking to end access to the drug did not have standing to seek the Court's relief, but did not rule out considering future challenges to access.

Trump also said there should be exceptions for abortion, while still insisting it should be left to individual states to decide their policies.

"I believe in the exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. I think it’s very important," Trump said.

Biden, meanwhile, countered Trump's answer, saying “no politician should make that decision. A doctor should be making those decisions.”

President Joe Biden condemned former President Donald Trump for helping champion the repeal of Roe v. Wade, allowing states to enact restrictive abortion policies. “The idea that states are able to do this is a little like saying we’re going to turn civil rights back to the states.”

Biden and Trump clash on COVID-19 response

Throughout the debate, Trump attacked Biden on his coronavirus response, calling Biden's vaccine and mask mandates a "disaster."

“I gave him an unbelievable situation with all of the therapeutics and all of the things that we came up with,” Trump said of his administration’s pandemic response. “He had far more people dying in his administration, who did the mandate, which was a disaster,' he added.

Biden responded by calling Trump's pandemic response “chaos," and claimed he gave Americans dangerous advice to protect themselves from infection.

“The pandemic was so badly handled,” Biden responded. “Many people were dying, and all he said was, ‘It’s not that serious, just inject a little bleach in your arm.’” 

Family business and personal attacks

As expected, Trump wasted no time in bringing up President Biden's son Hunter Biden, who was recently convicted on gun charges in Delaware.

"Fifty-one intelligence agents said that [Hunter's] laptop was Russia disinformation. It wasn't. That came from his son Hunter. It wasn't Russia disinformation," Trump said onstage.

While Biden generally steered away from mentioning Trump's ongoing legal troubles, he took a swipe at Trump mid-way through the debate by calling him a "convicted felon" and having the morals "of an alley cat."

Trump has been convicted of 34 felony charges in New York in connection with hush-money payments made to porn actress Stormy Daniels.

Trump then clapped back, bringing back Biden's son and his legal cases.

“When he talks about a convicted felon, his son is a convicted felon at a very high level,” Trump said. “His son is convicted, going to be convicted probably numerous other times.”

Hunter Biden was recently convicted on three felony charges for lying about being a substance abuser during a federal background check to obtain a gun.

Flashbacks to 2020

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