Notebook: Biden, Trump face off in first 2024 presidential debate 

Former President Donald J. Trump (left) and President Joe Biden during the presidential debate in Atlanta on June 27, 2024. Photo by Madalina Vasiliu. 
Former President Donald J. Trump (left) and President Joe Biden during the presidential debate in Atlanta on June 27, 2024. Photo by Madalina Vasiliu. 

Compiled by Catherine Yang, Jacob Burg, T.J. Muscaro and Jackson Richman 
Contributing Writers 

CNN hosted the first presidential debate of the 2024 election Thursday night with President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. This is not only the earliest presidential debate in an election year in modern history, but it is also the first time a sitting president has debated a former president. 

Jake Tapper and Dana Bash moderated, and CNN broadcast the 90-minute debate live. There was no studio audience. 

Trump, Biden Do Not Shake Hands 

For the first time since almost four years ago, Biden and Trump are meeting to debate and make their case why they should stay or return, respectively, to the Oval Office. 

Biden is on stage left, and Trump is stage left. They did not shake hands upon taking the stage. 

Biden Touts Job Creation 

The debate kicked off with a question about the economy, the consistent top concern for voters according to polls.  

“President Biden, inflation has slowed, but prices remain high,” Tapper said, citing 20% increases in grocery prices and 30% increases in home prices. 

“What do you say to voters who feel they are worse off under your presidency than they were under President Trump?” 

Biden said he came into office under an economy “in freefall” during a pandemic and said his administration began to put the economy back together. 

“We created 15,000 new jobs … 800,000 new manufacturing jobs,” he said. 

Trump Talks Tax Cuts 

Trump said his 2017 tax cuts spurred “the greatest economy that we’ve ever seen just prior to COVID.” 

He touted lowering the corporate tax rate to 21% from 39% and the revenue the United States was getting in oil as he was credited with having an energy policy that consisted of producing oil and gas domestically. 

Trump Defends China Tariffs 

Tapper asked Trump about his intention to impose a 10% tariff on all goods entering the United States, including those from China. 

“How will you ensure that that doesn’t drive prices even higher?” Tapper asked. 

“Not going to drive them higher. It’s just going to cause countries that have been ripping us off for years, like China and many others … to just force them to pay us a lot of money [and] reduce our deficit tremendously,” Trump said. 

Trump Supports Exceptions to Abortion 

Trump said he would not block access to abortion pills, when asked to address the Supreme Court’s approval of access. He also said he supported the exceptions for incest, rape, and the life of the mother. 

“I believe in the exceptions,” he said, adding “but you have to get elected.” 

Biden: ‘We Are Not for Late-Term Abortion, Period’ 

Biden said he was against late-term abortion after Trump’s criticism of “extreme” laws allowing abortion in the ninth month, or after birth. 

“We are not for late-term abortions, period, period,” Biden said. 

Biden, Trump Go Toe-to-Toe on Border Security 

Biden touted that the Border Patrol union endorsed his border security legislation, which Senate Republicans blocked recently. He lamented the family separation policy that was under his predecessor. 

Trump retorted, “We had the safest border in the history of our country.” 

Trump said Biden should have kept the Trump policies – which included requiring asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico pending adjudication – but lamented that he did not. 

Biden Touts PACT Act 

Biden highlighted passing the PACT Act of 2022 during a discussion on veterans. The law improved access to medical care for veterans exposed to toxic substances during military service. 

The president said veterans are “better off” after passing the act. “One million of them now have insurance, and their families have it.” 

“Whether it was Agent Orange or burn pits, they’re all being covered now,” Biden said, adding that Trump opposed the law. 

Trump Denies ‘Losers and Suckers’ Report 

Trump denied Biden’s reference to a media report that he had told a four-star general at a cemetery in France, “I don’t want to go in there because they’re a bunch of losers …losers and suckers.” 

“That was a made-up quote, suckers and losers,” said Trump. “They made it up. It was in a third-rate magazine that’s failing, like many of these magazines. He made that up … He put it in commercials. We’ve notified them. We had 19 people that said I didn’t say it.” 

The former president asked who would say that at a cemetery and affirmed that “nobody’s taken better care” of American soldiers than him. 

“We’ve done more for veterans than any president has in American history,” he said, adding, “The only sacred obligation we have as a country is to care for our veterans when they come home and their families and equip them when they go to war. That’s what we’re doing.” 

Trump says Putin’s Terms ‘Not Acceptable’ 

When asked about the war in Ukraine, Trump affirmed, “I’ll have that war settled” before he even takes office. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin had released terms of a potential ceasefire under the conditions that Russia keeps the Ukrainian territory it has already claimed and Ukraine abandons its bid to join NATO. 

But Trump said they were “not acceptable.” 

He also said that “this is a war that never should have started,” and criticized Biden for giving hundreds of billions of dollars to Ukraine. 

“Every time that (Volodomyr) Zelensky comes to this country, he walks away with $60 billion, he’s the greatest salesman ever,” Trump said. “And I’m not knocking him. I’m not knocking anything. I’m only saying the money that we’re spending on this war — and we shouldn’t be spending — it should have never happened.” 

Trump and Biden Differ on Hamas-Israel War 

Biden touted Israel and America’s allies endorsing the proposal he put forward, which he said at the time was Israel’s – to end the war between Israel and Hamas that has gone on since Oct. 7, 2023. It was the day the terrorist group launched the deadliest single-day attack of Jews since the Holocaust. The multifaceted proposal included a release of all hostages in exchange for an eventual permanent ceasefire. 

Biden said that “only Hamas wants the war to continue.” He acknowledged that he denied Israel 2,000-pound bombs, citing that they should not be used in populated areas. 

He said the United States has come to Israel’s rescue as the biggest producer of military support for Israel. He said Hamas cannot be allowed to continue. 

When asked if he would support an independent Palestinian state, Trump said, “I have to see.” During his administration, a peace plan was put forth that would have created a Palestinian state. The Palestinians rejected the proposal as they have done with all others throughout the seven-decade-long conflict. 

‘You Could Feel It’: Trump Says D.C. Unprepared for Jan. 6 

Trump said he never asked his supporters to enter the U.S. Capitol to interrupt the counting of the votes on Jan. 6, 2021. 

“I said [to march] ‘peacefully and patriotically,” Trump said. 

He said he had offered 10,000 National Guard that day and that the Washington mayor declined. He said everyone knew a lot of people were coming. 

“You could feel it,” he said. 

Biden Touts ‘Progress’ Made for Black Americans 

Bash asked Biden what he would say to Black Americans who may feel he hasn’t made “more progress” despite lower unemployment for people of color. 

The president suggested that there has been a historic increase in small businesses run by Black Americans and highlighted efforts to reduce discrimination in corporations. 

“So there’s more to be done, considerably more to be done. But we’ve done a great deal so far, and I’m not letting up, and they know it,” Biden said. 

Biden: Wealthy Should Pay More Into Social Security 

Biden said he will “make the very wealthy begin to pay their fair share” in order to keep Social Security solvent. 

That one action “will keep it solvent,” he said. 

Biden Responds to Migrant Question with Fastest-Growing Economy 

Trump lamented that under Biden’s watch, migrants who have crossed the border illegally are getting Social Security, leading to the program being on the road to insolvency. 

Biden responded that the people crossing the border during his presidency are a reason the United States has the fastest-growing economy in the world. 

Biden Calls US ‘Most Admired Country’ in the World 

In response to Trump’s suggestion that Americans “won’t have a country left anymore” if Biden wins the election and continues his current immigration policies, the president defended the United States and its image on the world stage. 

“We’re the most admired country in the world. With the United States of America, there’s nothing beyond our capacity,” Biden said. 

He continued by saying the country has the “finest military in the history of the world.” 

Biden: Illicit Fentanyl Decreased ‘for a While’ 

Biden said illicit fentanyl and fentanyl byproducts “went down, for a while.” 

He said the border deal he proposed included a budget for large machines to detect fentanyl coming across the border, as well as more border personnel. 

“We need those machines,” he said. 

Trump Pledges to Accept 2024 Election Results If ‘Fair and Legal’ 

Trump was asked if he would pledge to accept the 2024 election results once all legal challenges are exhausted. 

“If it’s a fair and legal and good election, absolutely,” he said after taking a detour to address other issues. 

When asked if he would say that political violence is not acceptable, he answered, “it’s totally unacceptable.” 

Biden Defends His Age 

Since Biden would be 86 at the end of a second term if reelected, Bash asked him how he would address voter concerns over the capacity to “handle the toughest job in the world well into [his] 80s.” 

Biden noted that for much of his career, he was criticized for being the “youngest person in politics” after being the second youngest person to be elected to the U.S. Senate. 

“Now I’m the oldest … Just look at the record, look at what I’ve done. Look, I’ve turned around a horrible situation,” Biden said, touting investments in the nation’s infrastructure. 

Trump was given the same question, as he would be 82 at the end of his second term if reelected. 

He emphasized passing “two cognitive tests” while in the White House and said he feels good for his age. 

“I think I’m in very good shape. I feel that I’m in as good shape as I was 25–30 years ago,” Trump said. 

Biden’s Closing Statement 

In his closing statement, Biden hit Trump on the economy and the United States not having a fair tax system. 

He reiterated his pledge not to raise taxes on those making more than $400,000. He also decried the deficit going up under his predecessor. 

Moreover, Biden hit the former president for his tariff policy. 

Finally, Biden pledged that there would be child care for all American families and that inflation would come down. 

Trump Criticizes Biden’s Record in Closing Statement 

Trump was able to make the final closing statement after Biden won the coin toss ahead of the debate and opted to choose his podium position instead of having the last word. 

“Like so many politicians, this man is just a complainer,” he said about Biden, suggesting that Americans don’t “respect” the president due to the chaos at the southern border. 

“He said, ‘We want to do this, to do that, we want to get rid of this tax, that tax,’ but he doesn’t do anything,” the former president said. 

He alleged that the Israel-Hamas war would not have broken out if he had won the 2020 election instead of Biden. 

“Iran was broke. They had no money for Hamas or Hezbollah for terror, no money whatsoever,” he said. 

Trump said what he did as president was “incredible.” He said his administration worked to “rebuild the military” and secure the “largest tax cut in history” and the “largest regulation cut in history.” 

He then alleged Biden worked to undo the progress made during his term in office. 

“We’re a failing nation, but it’s not going to be failing anymore.” 

Debate Ends Without a Handshake 

The candidates finished the debate without meeting for the customary handshake, and cameras faded to black. 

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