Trump, Biden Spar Over Presidential Track Records in First Debate

Rule changes for this debate reduced cross-talking and eliminated audience interruptions, focusing more attention on substance than showmanship.

ATLANTA—President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump traded jabs about their presidential accomplishments and offered vastly different visions of the past and future in their first 2024 presidential debate.

The two candidates faced off for 90 minutes, punctuated by two brief commercial breaks, in a closed television studio in Atlanta on June 27.

CNN moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash conducted the debate under strict rules, which both campaigns agreed to. No live audience, teleprompters, notes, or staff members were permitted in the studio. The rules included strict time limits for each answer and rebuttal, which the candidates largely adhered to.

President Biden entered the studio first, taking his place at a podium on the viewer’s right, followed by former President Trump, who stood at an identical podium eight feet away. The candidates exchanged glances but did not shake hands.

The setting, reminiscent of presidential debates of years past, yielded more restrained performance from both candidates. Despite some personal attacks and bickering, the debaters talked mostly about policy matters, each touting his own achievements while disparaging his opponent’s record.

President Biden said that he inherited a country in chaos when the former president left office. Former President Trump said the economy, the border, and world order were all intact under his watch but had disintegrated under President Biden’s leadership.

The former president criticized his opponent hardest on the southern border, tying nearly every issue from crime to Social Security back to illegal immigration. President Biden landed blows on the issues of foreign affairs and abortion while attempting to portray the former president’s positions as extreme and dangerous.

The Border

While President Biden said that his new executive order resulted in 40 percent fewer people crossing the border illegally, former President Trump disputed that claim and criticized the Democratic incumbent for his “open border” policy and attributed several recent murders allegedly committed by illegal immigrants to this policy.

In response, President Biden stated that the growth in immigration is the reason the United States has the world’s fastest-growing economy.


Former President Trump, when asked whether he would ban the drug mifepristone, which is commonly used to induce abortion, said he would not.

“The Supreme Court just approved the abortion bill, and I agree with their decision to have done that, and I will not block it,” the former president said. He added that the overturn of Roe v. Wade returned the question of limiting abortion access to the states where he believes it belongs.

President Biden strongly disagreed, saying that equates to the idea that each state should make its own decision about civil rights.

“We’re in a state where, in six weeks, you don’t even know whether you’re pregnant or not, but you cannot see a doctor, have your and have him decide on what your circumstances are,” the president said.

“No politician [should be] making that decision, a doctor should be making those decisions,” President Biden added. “And if I’m elected, I’m going to restore Roe v Wade.”


President Trump repeated his claim that he would put an immediate end to the war in Ukraine if elected. “As President Elect, before I take office on January 20, I’ll have that war settled,” the former president said.

“[President Biden] has given $200 billion now, or more, to Ukraine,” former President Trump said. “I’m only saying—the money we’re spending on this war! And we shouldn’t be spending it. It should have never happened.”

The spin room after former President Donald J. Trump and President Joe Biden's presidential debate in Atlanta, Ga., on June 27, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
The spin room after former President Donald J. Trump and President Joe Biden’s presidential debate in Atlanta, Ga., on June 27, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

President Biden countered saying that the Russian leader intends to reestablish the Soviet empire and will not be satisfied with a partial victory in Ukraine. “No major war in Europe has ever been able to be contained just to Europe,” the president said.

Tough Questions

Both candidates faced tough questions that bear on their fitness for office. Asked about his age and ability to handle the rigors of the presidency well into his 80s, President Biden pointed to his record. “Look at what I’ve done. Look, I’ve turned around the horrible situation he left me,” he continued, touting his record of job creation, especially in manufacturing.

Former President Trump, when asked about his role in Jan. 6, said that he had told supporters to behave “peacefully and patriotically” that day, and added that then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had later taken responsibility for the lack of security at the Capitol.

After being asked for a third time whether he would accept the result of the upcoming election, Mr. Trump said, “If it’s a fair and legal and good election, absolutely.”


While both men made strong points about policy, former President Trump presented himself as the stronger candidate according to some analysts, while his opponent occasionally stumbled over words and, at one point, seemed to lose his train of thought.

“I think [undecided voters] probably walked away from this debate seeing one candidate that was a stronger leader than one who really was inarticulate,” Jimmy Lee of Susquehanna polling told The Epoch Times.

Matthew Wilson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said that in his view the former president won the night not based on his own presentation but on the poor performance of his opponent.

“Trump was just Trump. He was neither better nor worse than he usually is,” Mr. Wilson told The Epoch Times. But because of Biden’s debate performance, “Trump essentially wins the debate by default,” he said.

Following the debate, Vice President Kamala Harris acknowledged that the president had gotten to a “slow start.”

“There was a slow start, but there was a strong finish,” she said in a CNN interview after the debate.

The Biden campaign stated that President Biden has been suffering from a cold, which has caused him to sound raspy throughout the debate. The president himself told reporters after the debate that “I think we did well.”

When asked about the president’s performance, Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) emphasized that the substance of President Biden’s speech, rather than his style, was more important.

“Look, at the end of the day, he delivered the message tonight, and he was being honest,” Mr. Garcia told reporters.

“The president did what he needed to do tonight, which is being honest to the American people and to be forceful in defending his record,” he added.

Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) speaks to members of the press in the spin room after President Joe Biden and former President Donald J. Trump's presidential debate in Atlanta, Ga., on June 27, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) speaks to members of the press in the spin room after President Joe Biden and former President Donald J. Trump’s presidential debate in Atlanta, Ga., on June 27, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

Although President Biden’s performance “did not exactly distill confidence,” according to Christopher Bruce, policy and advocacy director at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia, he did well at some points in the debate.

“There were times when President Joe Biden had some very good quips and came back. But there were other times that he did not look at his best,” he told The Epoch Times.

Former President Trump held a 1.5 percent lead in an average of national polls published by Real Clear Politics on June 27, though the most recent poll by The New York Times/Siena College indicated a 4-point lead.

The debate may not change that significantly, according to Mr. Lee. “I think the performance by Trump was strong enough to help him maintain his stature in the polling,” Mr. Lee said. “I don’t suspect we’ll see polling that shows Biden gaining ground. I think the polling will be stagnant or show Trump  continuing to lead.”

Janice Hisle and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


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