Trump and Biden spar on economy and abortion at first presidential debate

The broadcast on CNN marked the earliest general election debate in history.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden spar on economy and abortion at first presidential debate PA Media

President Joe Biden and Donald Trump sparred over the economy, abortion and the Capitol riot at the first presidential debate of the 2024 US election cycle.

The two candidates strode on stage on Thursday evening and walked directly to their lecterns, avoiding a handshake.

The broadcast on CNN, moderated by anchors Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, marked the earliest general election debate in history.

It was the first televised general election presidential debate hosted by a single news outlet after both campaigns ditched the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, which had organised every match-up since 1988.

Aiming to avoid a repeat of their chaotic 2020 meetings, Biden insisted — and Trump agreed — to hold the debate without an audience and to allow the network to mute the candidates’ microphones when it is not their turn to speak.

The first question saw Biden pressed to defend rising inflation since he took office, which he pinned on the situation he inherited from Trump amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The President needed to clear his throat twice during his first answer, sounding hoarse, and Trump smirked as Biden started speaking.

With the economy as the first issue of the debate, Biden detailed what he described as an American economy “in freefall”, while Trump bragged about the state of the economy while he was in office, as well as his handling of the pandemic.

Biden blamed Trump during the debate for the deluge of state abortion restrictions since the fall of Roe v Wade.

Trump said he would accept the results of the 2024 election if the vote was 'fair’ and ‘legal'.PA Media

As president, Trump appointed three justices to the US Supreme Court who helped form the majority that overturned the constitutional right to abortion — and he has taken credit for that during his campaign.

Trump said on the debate stage that he believes in abortion ban exceptions “for rape, incest and the life of the mother”.

The former president repeated his catch-all states-rights response when abortion rights came up, touting that he returned the abortion question to individual states after the overturning of Roe v Wade, which once granted a federal right to abortion.

Asked about the Capitol attack on January 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.

Biden said Trump encouraged the supporters to go to the Capitol and sat in the White House without taking action as they fought with police officers.

“He didn’t do a damn thing and these people should be in jail,” Biden said.

“They should be the ones that are being held accountable. And he wants to let them all out. And now he says that if he loses again, such a whiner that he is, that this could be a ‘bloodbath’?”

Trump defended the people convicted and imprisoned for their role in the insurrection, saying to Biden: “What they’ve done to some people that are so innocent, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

Almost 45 minutes into the debate, Biden finally referenced Trump’s recent felony conviction in New York.

Biden had issues with his voice throughout the debate.PA Media

During the discussion about the insurrection, Biden said: “The only person on this stage that’s a convicted felon is the man I’m looking at right now.”

Trump 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.

Biden directly mentioned Trump’s conviction in the New York hush money trial, saying: “You have the morals of an alley cat,” and referenced allegations in the case that Trump had sex with a porn actress.

“I did not have sex with a porn star,” replied Trump, who chose not to testify at his trial.

Trump retorted that Biden could face criminal charges “when he leaves office”.

Although there is no evidence of any wrongdoing, Trump said: “Joe could be a convicted felon with all the things that he’s done.”

He added of the president, “this man is a criminal”.

Biden insisted that Trump was more focused on “retribution” against his political rivals than leading the nation.

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

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

In his retort, Trump bragged about his golf game and said he is in as good a shape as he was 25 years ago and perhaps “even a little bit lighter”.

Trump equivocated on whether he would accept the results of the November election, saying he would accept them if the vote was “fair” and “legal”, repeating his baseless claims of widespread fraud and misconduct in his 2020 loss to Biden that he still denies.

Biden responded by saying: “I doubt whether you’ll accept it.”

Following the debate, vice president Kamala Harris said Biden had a “slow start”, but she insisted that he finished “strong”.

“It was a slow start. That’s obvious to everyone. I’m not going to debate that point,” Harris said in an interview on CNN.

“I’m talking about the choice for November. I’m talking about one of the most important elections in our collective lifetime.”

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