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The Biggest Moments in the First 2024 Presidential Debate

Awkward exchanges, personal jabs, and falsehoods dominated the first presidential debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump

The evening featured Biden and Trump go back and forth on the topics on many Americans’ minds—abortion, inflation, immigration, and climate, among others. The two men also took time to call each other “whiners” and “complainers,” while also trading jabs at their age, mental alertness, and even golf skills, on stage.

Here are the biggest moments from the night.

Trump and Biden clash over abortion

The candidates took swings at each other when asked where they stood on abortion. Biden committed to restoring Roe v. Wade—the landmark Supreme Court decision that gave Americans the constitutional right to an abortion in 1973 but was overturned in 2022. Trump, meanwhile, applauded the repeal of Roe, and falsely claimed that the Biden Administration would “take the life of the baby in the ninth month, and even after birth.”

Trump’s comments prompted outrage from reproductive rights advocates online, many of whom pointed out that abortions don’t happen “after birth”—that would be infanticide, a crime in every state. And late-term abortions are very rare.

Trump took credit for the overturning of Roe, pointing out that he appointed three of the Supreme Court justices who ruled in favor of repealing the ruling—which Biden lambasted him for. Trump also claimed that “everybody” wanted Roe to be overturned so that states could make their own laws on abortion—which Biden called “just ridiculous,” citing many scholars who supported Roe when it was first decided.

Criticism over CNN’s lack of fact-checking

Throughout the 90-minute debate, the candidates lashed claims related to inflation, border crossings, and abortion policies—many of which were untrue or misleading. For instance, Trump said that “all of these people coming in,” in reference to migrants who have entered the U.S. through the Southern border, would “destroy Social Security.” Politifact previously fact-checked this claim, which Trump has mentioned on the campaign trail, as false. When asked about Trump’s plan to address the climate crisis, Trump also falsely said that he had the “best environmental numbers ever,” even though he pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords. Biden claimed that no troops died under his watch, although 13 U.S. service members died in a suicide bombing attack at the Kabul Airport during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Read More: Our Exclusive Interview with Donald Trump

CNN had said before the debate that moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash would not be providing real-time fact-checking, opting to let the candidates speak. But critics have taken to social media in a call for better fact-checking during the event to combat misinformation. “This debate is meaningless without fact-checking,” wrote one user on X. “It’s just a big, free national platform for Trump to spout whatever he wants with a veneer of respectability,” the user added in a follow-up tweet. Others said the lack of fact-checking was an “enormous disservice to democracy.”

Trump calls Biden a “bad Palestinian

Moderators also pressed Biden about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where more than 20,000 children are missing, according to a recent report. Five Americans also remain under hostage control by Hamas. The U.S. has stood by Israel, which Biden pointed to when pressed about possible solutions to the end of the war. Trump was critical about the billions sent to Israel from the U.S. before claiming that Israel wants to continue the war. ​​”He’s become like a Palestinian. They don’t like him because he’s a very bad Palestinian. He’s a weak one,” Trump said during the debate.

The issue has been contentious among many Americans, prompting calls for a ceasefire and numerous student protests across numerous college campuses, while also generating conversations about anti-semitism in the country. 

When asked whether Trump would support an independent Palestinian state, Trump simply said, “I’d have to see.”

Trump: Ukraine would not have been invaded if I were President

More than two years since Russia first invaded Ukraine, with deaths in the hundreds of thousands, moderators asked Trump if he agrees with the conditions Russian President Vladimir Putin set—Ukraine abandoning its NATO bid and Russia keeping four of the Ukrainian territories it has annexed—before Moscow stops its assault on the eastern European state. 

Trump said those conditions were “not acceptable,” but argued that he would have settled if he were President while not providing specifics. Trump also suggested that the chaotic end of the U.S.’ occupation in Afghanistan—which saw thousands of Afghans trying to escape from the Taliban and U.S. service members killed outside the Kabul airport during the exodus—encouraged Putin to start the war in Ukraine. 

“If we had a real President, a President that was respected by Putin, he would have never invaded Ukraine,” Trump said. “The difference is [Putin] never would have invaded Ukraine, never, just like Israel would have never been invaded in a million years by Hamas. You know why? Because Iran was broke with me.”

Biden—whose administration has backed Ukraine through consistent military aid packages—stood firm against Putin: “The fact is that Putin is a war criminal. He’s killed thousands and thousands of people, and he has made one thing clear, he wants to reestablish what was part of the Soviet empire, not just a piece. He wants all of Ukraine. That’s what he wants. And then you think he’ll stop if he takes Ukraine?”

Golf match 

In an attempt to challenge the competency of his opponent, Trump questioned Biden’s golf abilities when asked about concerns on his own capability to serve. 

“He can’t hit a ball 50 yards,” Trump claimed, after saying he himself aced two cognitive tests. Biden responded by saying that he would be happy to compete against Trump, so long as he carried his own golf bag.

Trump, who was criticized during his presidency for the amount of time he spent at his golf courses, took to Truth Social to share a short clip of him playing the sport.

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