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Trump and Biden squared off for the first time in the 2024 election season

APTOPIX Election 2024 Debate
Posted at 9:22 PM, Jun 27, 2024

ATLANTA (AP) — The first general election debate of the 2024 season has come to a close, with U.S. President Joe Biden and his Republican rival, Donald Trump, clashing on immigration and climate change and launching deeply personal attacks on each other Thursday evening in Atlanta.

Biden, the Democratic incumbent, had the opportunity to reassure voters that, at 81, he's capable of guiding the U.S. through a range of challenges.

Meanwhile, the 78-year-old Trump could use the moment to try to move past his felony conviction in New York and convince an audience of tens of millions that he's temperamentally suited to return to the Oval Office. Thursday's debate in Atlanta marks at least a couple of firsts — never before have two White House contenders faced off at such advanced ages, and never before has CNN hosted a general election presidential debate.

The candidates' closing statements

President Joe Biden began his closing statement with a voice that was even scratchier than earlier and was at times hard to understand.

He said of his administration, "We've made significant progress from the debacle that was left by President Trump is in his last term" but also flubbed the price cuts on insulin he helped champion, saying $35 when he meant $15.

In his closing statement, former President Donald Trump tried again to lump Biden in with other career politicians, calling Biden "a complainer."

He also said that the public and foreign leaders don't respect Biden, saying, "The whole country is exploding because of you."

Trump asked if he will accept the results of the 2024 election

Though asked three times, former President Donald Trump never directly affirmed that he would accept the election results, no matter who wins.

Several times Trump noted that he would accept the results "if it's a fair and legal and good election" but wouldn't give a yes or no answer to moderator Dana Bash's inquiries.

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The follow-ups came after Trump ultimately denounced political violence as "totally unacceptable."

After the moderator asked Trump three times whether he would accept the results of the November election, Joe Biden responded that he doubted Trump would "because you're such a whiner."

Biden noted there was no evidence of any widespread fraud in the 2020 election and that multiple courts had dismissed challenges brought by Trump's campaign.

Biden uses term 'illegal aliens' while discussing immigration

Joe Biden uses the term "illegal aliens" while responding to Donald Trump's attacks on immigration.

He said that while Trump accuses migrants of taking away jobs, he said "there's a reason why we have the fastest growing economy in the world."

It's not the first time Biden has used terms that are rejected by immigrant rights' groups and are not favored by Democrats. In March, during his State of the Union speech, he referred to a suspect in the killing of a Georgia nursing student as an "illegal" and later said he regretted using that term.

"I shouldn't have used illegal, it's undocumented," he said in an interview with MSNBC's Jonathan Capehart.

Moderators question both Biden and Trump on their ability to be president at their age

More than 80 minutes into the debate, President Joe Biden, 81, and former President Donald Trump, 78, were asked about their age and ability to serve well into his 80s.

Biden, answering with the hoarse voice he's had all night, launched on a litany of policy achievements and noted that Trump is only "three years younger."

Biden also used the answer to slap at Trump for bad-mouthing the U.S. "The idea that we are some kind of failing country? I've never heard a president talk like that before," Biden said.

In his retort, Trump bragged on his golf game and said he's in as good a shape as he was 25 years ago and perhaps "even a little bit lighter."

Election 2024 Debate How to Watch
FILE - Ben Starett, lighting programmer for CNN, sets up lights in the spin room for the presidential debate between President Joe Biden and Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump in Atlanta, Wednesday, June 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

FACT CHECK: Biden cites wrong numbers on a survey of presidential historians

At two different moments in the debate, Joe Biden said either 159 or 158 presidential historians voted Donald Trump the worst president in U.S. history.

He admitted he didn't have the exact number, and he was right, though he wasn't far off.

The survey in question, a project from professors at the University of Houston and Coastal Carolina University, included 154 usable responses, from 525 respondents invited to participate.

Candidates discuss climate change

More than an hour into the debate, the candidates finally talked about climate change, which Joe Biden has called an existential crisis and a top priority of his presidency.

Trump, after initially declining to answer on climate, said he wants "absolutely immaculate, clean water and I want absolutely clean air.''

He said that during his administration, "we were using all forms of energy, all forms, everything'' and claimed he "had the best environmental numbers ever.''

It was unclear what he was referring to.

Biden called climate change the greatest threat to humanity, adding that Trump "didn't do a darn thing about it.''

Biden cited the 2022 passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which is authorizes billions for clean energy. Biden called it the most significant climate legislation ever passed.

Trump brags about 'immaculate, clean water' during his presidency

When former President Donald Trump was asked what he would do about climate change, he said that the U.S. had "absolutely immaculate, clean water" and air when he was president.

Joe Biden retorted: "He hasn't done a damn thing" for the environment.

Climate change isn't an area where Americans think Trump performed especially well as president. Nearly half of Americans said Trump hurt the country on climate change while he was president, while relatively few Americans — only about 1 in 10 — said Trump's presidency helped the country. About 4 in 10 say he neither helped nor hurt.

They're more likely to see a positive effect from Biden's presidency, but it's not an overwhelming endorsement. Nearly half say Biden neither helped nor hurt the country on climate change, while about 3 in 10 say he helped a lot or a little and roughly 2 in 10 say he hurt the country.

Election 2024 Debate
President Joe Biden speaks during a presidential debate with Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

FACT CHECK: Trump's claim Pelosi turned down his offer to send National Guard members on Jan. 6, 2021

Trump falsely claimed that then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "turned down" his offer to send "10,000 soldiers or National Guard" to the Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Pelosi does not direct the National Guard. Further, as the Capitol came under attack, she and then-Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell called for military assistance, including from the National Guard.

The Capitol Police Board decides on whether to call National Guard troops to the Capitol. It is made up of the House Sergeant at Arms, the Senate Sergeant at Arms and the Architect of the Capitol. The board decided not to call the guard ahead of the insurrection but did eventually request assistance after the rioting had already begun, and the troops arrived several hours later.

There is no evidence that either Pelosi or McConnell directed the security officials not to call the guard beforehand.

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Trump's hush money conviction mentioned for the first time

Almost 45 minutes into the debate, President Joe Biden finally referenced former President Donald Trump's recent felony conviction in New York.

During a discussion about the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, Biden said: "The only person on this stage that's a convicted felon is the man I'm looking at right now," referring to Trump.

Trump then sought to pivot from his own legal troubles by referring to Biden's son, Hunter, as a "convicted felon."

He was referencing the younger Biden's felony conviction this month on three firearms charges. Trump also repeated long-running claims related to the Bidens and Ukraine, a frequent attack point for Republicans.

Election 2024 Debate
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks during a presidential debate with President Joe Biden, Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Questioning turns to the events of Jan. 6, 2021

Debate questions are turning to Jan. 6, 2021, when supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol during the certification of the Electoral College vote count.

Trump was asked by host Jake Tapper whether he violated his oath to protect and defend the Constitution.

Asked about the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021, Trump quickly pivoted to immigration and taxes. Pressed on his role, he said he encouraged people to act "peacefully and patriotically," then attacked former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The rioters on Jan. 6 engaged in hand-to-hand combat with police and used makeshift weapons, including flagpoles, a table leg, hockey stick and crutch, to attack officers. Police officers were bruised and bloodied as they were dragged into the crowd and beaten. One officer was crushed in a doorframe and another suffered a heart attack after a rioter pressed a stun gun against his neck and repeatedly shocked him.

More than 1,400 people have been charged with federal offenses stemming from the riot. Of those, more than 850 have guilty people have pleaded guilty to crimes, including seditious conspiracy and assaulting police officers. About 200 others have been convicted at trial.

Election 2024 Debate
CNN's Dana Bash, left, and Jake Tapper listen as they moderate a presidential debate between President Joe Biden and Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The first half hour

In first half hour of debate, a raspy Joe Biden has delivered rambling answers that sometimes trail off as he defends his policies and record.

Donald Trump has countered with falsehoods on issues including the economy, abortion and NATO members' defense spending.

The two have also exchanged deeply personal attacks.

Biden pushes back on Trump's NATO comments

Joe Biden pushed back at Donald Trump bragging about pushing European allies to put more money into defense. "This is a guy who wants to pull out of NATO," Biden said, adding that he "got 50 other nations" to support Ukraine against Russia's invasion.

Biden forcefully responded to Trump's NATO comments, saying: "He has no idea what the hell he's talking about."

About 6 in 10 Americans see NATO membership as a very or somewhat good thing for the U.S., while about one-quarter say it's neither good nor bad and only about 1 in 10 say it's very or somewhat bad, according to an AP-NORC poll conducted in February.

Trump claims Russia's attack on Ukraine would not have happened with him as president

The questioning during Thursday's debate turned to foreign policy beginning with the Russian war in Ukraine, which is now in its third year.

Former President Donald Trump suggested Russia never would have attacked Ukraine if he had been in office.

"If we had a real president, a president that knew that was respected by Putin, he would have never he would have never invaded Ukraine," he said.

Trump has a long history of positive comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin's toughness, including calling Putin's tactics in the 2022 invasion of Ukraine "genius" and "very savvy."

Trump expresses no such warmth for Ukraine or Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, most recently calling him a "salesman" this month for the Ukrainian leader's military aid requests to the United States.

Candidates questioned on immigration and the country's borders

Former President Donald Trump complained that migrants who arrive in the country illegally are housed in "luxury hotels" while veterans are on the street.

As expected, he also leaned heavily on discussing migrant crime. He also said migrants are coming into the U.S. illegally from "mental institutions" and "insane asylums." He has not provided evidence for that claim, which he has frequently made at rallies.

Trump also said he had the "safest border border in history" — a highly questionably claim and a familiar talking point.

President Joe Biden has stuck to his talking points on immigration, highlighting 40% drop in arrests for illegal immigration since issuing an executive order suspending asylum.

He's trying to gain ground on immigration, which has risen as a national priority, not just among Republicans.

Just 3 in 10 Americans approve of Biden's handling of immigration, according to an AP-NORC poll from June. About 6 in 10 Democrats approve of Biden's approach to the issue, but only about 2 in 10 Independents and fewer than 1 in 10 Republicans agree.