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Breaking down the issues from the first 2024 presidential debate

President Biden and former President Trump gave voters nationwide the latest look at how they want to tackle critical topics in 2024.
Donald Trump
Joe Biden
Posted at 4:29 PM, Jun 27, 2024

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump took the stage in Atlanta Thursday night, giving voters nationwide the latest look at how the candidates want to tackle critical topics in 2024.

The candidates were positioned on the stage according to a coin toss, CNN says.

Each candidate was given two minutes to answer questions on various topics. Then each candidate got two minutes for closing statements.

There was no audience in attendance and both campaigns agreed to accept CNN's debate rules.

Here's a look at the issues the candidates addressed:

The economy

President Biden and former President Donald Trump debate the economy

"The economy collapsed," President Biden said of the situation he took over for former President Trump in 2020.

President Biden said he planned to reduce the price of housing, build two million new units and cap rents.

He explained his efforts to reduce prescription drug costs and expand access to more Americans.

"We had the greatest economy in the history of our country," former President Trump said.

But now "inflation's killing our country," he said.

President Biden criticized Trump for granting tax cuts to the wealthy.

Trump said his tariff proposals would reduce the deficit when dealing with countries like China.

He said his cuts to taxes and regulations helped spur economic performance, and said President Biden's administration then mishandled the situation it took over.

Further relating the economy to the effects of the pandemic, Trump said President Biden's COVID mandates diminished the U.S. standing in the world overall.

"What I'm going to do is fix the tax system," President Biden said.

He called for new taxes on the wealthy that would help address national debt, and improve healthcare systems.

Abortion

President Biden and former President Donald Trump debate abortion

Former President Trump said he agreed with the Supreme Court's decision to make abortion medication available. He said he would not block access. He repeated at the debate that he wants to leave the decision on abortion bans up to individual states.

"That's the vote of the people," he said. He said he believed in abortion exceptions for rape, incest and for cases that threatened the life of the mother.

In response, President Biden outlined the broad constitutional support for the Roe v. Wade decision.

President Biden said he supported the time limits on abortion decisions that had already been laid out in Roe v. Wade.

"No politician can make that decision," he said.

"We are not for late-term abortion," he emphasized. "For 51 years that was the law."

Immigration

President Biden and former President Donald Trump debate immigration and border policy

President Biden criticized Trump's practice of separating families at the border and said his own administration's policies had improved the situation at the border.

"We had the safest border in the history of our country," Trump said in response. "All he had to do was leave it."

President Biden said Trump exaggerated the criminal risk of the border, accusing him of over-emphasizing the risk of terrorism.

"We have to get a lot of these people out and get them out fast," Trump said of immigrants, citing the example of those who were in temporary housing in cities like New York.

President Biden headed into the debate having just enacted a policy of immigration relief for undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens, which would allow them to apply for lawful permanent residence.

Meanwhile, restrictions his administration announced in June have suspended asylum processing based on the high number of arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border. Since then, arrests for illegal border-crossings have declined by more than 40%, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

While he was in office, former President Trump enacted the so-called "Remain in Mexico" policy for asylum-seekers and raised the threshold on conditions required to apply.

Since then he has outlined a plan to curtail both legal and illegal immigration and deport millions of people residing illegally in the U.S. every year, housing them in detention camps in the process.

Foreign policy

President Biden and former President Donald Trump debate foreign policy

Former President Trump said that if President Biden were more respected by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukraine may not have been invaded.

But Trump said President Biden's handling of the evacuation of Afghanistan was "the most embarrassing moment in the history of our country" and influenced Putin's decision to invade Ukraine.

President Biden alleged that Trump encouraged Putin to "do whatever you want" in dealing with Ukraine.

"This is a war that never should have started," Trump said of the war. He criticized the spending to support Ukraine and said that he would be able to "settle" the war by communicating with Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy "as president-elect," before even gaining formal office.

On Israel's war in Gaza, President Biden said that world leaders have endorsed the plan that his administration put forward to end hostilities and facilitate the transfer of remaining hostage in Gaza.

"Hamas cannot be allowed to continue," he said.

In response, former President Trump said Israel should be allowed to "finish the job" that it started in Gaza.

Trump did not immediately answer whether he would support an independent Palestinian state.

Jan. 6

President Biden and former President Donald Trump debate Jan. 6 events

Trump did not directly answer questions from moderators about whether he violated his constitutional oath as president during the events of Jan. 6.

"[Trump] encouraged those folks to go up to Capitol Hill," President Biden said of the incident.

"These people should be in jail," President Biden said of participants that were convicted for their role in Jan. 6. He denied that their behavior was patriotic.

Political scandals

President Biden calls Trump a convicted felon on debate stage

The candidates traded mentions of high-profile criminal cases that have roiled both of their campaigns during the early stages of the race.

"The only person on this stage who's a convicted felon is the man I'm looking at right now," President Biden said, in reference to Trump's conviction in May on 34 felonies for falsifying business records.

"His son is a convicted felon," Trump said, referencing the June conviction of Hunter Biden on three felonies for lying on a gun purchase form.

Facing recurring challenges for Black families in a second term

President Biden and former President Donald Trump discuss recurring challenges for Black families at debate

Hoping to reassure Black voters who were disappointed in his tenure so far, President Biden highlighted new Black-owned small businesses, increased housing and declining unemployment. He said he had worked to bring down childcare costs and student debt, including for Black families.

"We're going to do a whole lot more," he said.

Former President Trump said inflation under the Biden administration is killing families.

"I gave him a country with essentially no inflation," Trump said.

He alleged lax immigration controls had diminished employment opportunities for Black and hispanic families.

Confronting climate change

President Biden and former President Donald Trump debate confronting climate change

Former President Trump did not directly answer questions about whether he would work to mitigate the effects of climate change.

"During my four years, I had the best environmental numbers ever," he said.

President Biden highlighted the risks of exceeding consensus thresholds on global warming temperatures.

Trump criticized that agreement as a "ripoff."

Social Security

President Biden and former President Donald Trump debate social security

President Biden said he would make the wealthy "begin to pay their fair share" to help keep the Social Security program solvent. He said he would not increase taxes on anyone making less than $400,000 to pay for the program.

"[Biden] is destroying it," Trump said of Social Security. He claimed allowances for immigrants was a drain on the program that should have instead be put toward supporting groups like veterans.

The opioid crisis

President Biden and former President Donald Trump debate on the opioid epidemic

"We were doing very well" on countering addiction rates until the coronavirus outbreak, former President Trump said. He said lax border policies had allowed more drugs to enter the country.

President Biden called out new border agents and screening methods that his administration implemented to reduce the flow of drugs.

The capability of the candidates

President Biden and former President Donald Trump debate how their ages affect their capabilities

President Biden called back to his long political record as evidence of his ability, even as he ages, and pointed out that when he began his political career, he was among the youngest on Capitol Hill.

"I took two cognitive tests and aced them," former President Trump said. He quipped that he felt as good as he did 25 years ago.

Pledging to accept the results of the election

"I shouldn't have to say that, but of course I believe that," former President Trump said. He said his earlier statements, including from the Rose Garden after the Jan. 6 insurrection, sent a strong message of non-violence.

"If it's a fair and legal and good election, absolutely," Trump said, when pressed by moderators. "There's nothing I'd rather do."

Closing statements

President Biden's closing arguments at CNN debate

"We've made significant progress from the debacle that was left by President Trump in his last term," President Biden said.

He went on to reiterate his plans to reduce taxes and inflation, his administration's success reducing medication costs, and his plans to make childcare more affordable.

Former President Trump's closing arguments at CNN debate

"Like so many politicians, this man is just a complainer," former President Trump said of his opponent.

Trump said Biden's border policies and foreign policy decision has damaged U.S. standing and international perception.

"We're in a failing nation, but it's not going to be failing any more," Trump said.