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At first presidential debate, Biden and Trump spar on abortion, immigration

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Presumptive 2024 presidential nominees Donald Trump and President Joe Biden sparred at the election cycle’s first presidential debate on Thursday, arguing over a wide range of topics including abortion, immigration, and the economy.

The two candidates, who have yet to be nominated by their respective parties, took to the stage in Atlanta to present their respective visions for the country. The debate was moderated by CNN anchors Dana Bash and Jake Tapper.

In a likely response to the at-times-chaotic debates of the past, the event was marked by several notable rules: The candidates’ microphones were muted when they weren’t talking in order to curb interruptions during heated moments, and there was no studio audience present.

The event was the first of two presidential debates being held this season; the second will take place in September.

Biden promises restoration of Roe v. Wade

Near the beginning of the debate the moderators asked the candidates about abortion and the 2022 repeal of Roe v. Wade. Bash noted that this year will constitute “the first presidential election since the Supreme Court overturned” the long-standing abortion precedent.

Trump, whose Supreme Court nominees helped overturn Roe, boasted about that ruling. “[W]hat I did is I put three great Supreme Court justices on the court, and they happened to vote in favor of killing Roe v. Wade and moving it back to the states. This is something that everybody wanted,” he said.

The Republican candidate said he believes in “exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother,” but he pointed out that radical pro-abortion policies “will take the life of a child in the eighth month, the ninth month, and even after birth.”

Biden, meanwhile, criticized the repeal of Roe, arguing that returning abortion regulations to the states was “a little like saying, ‘We’re going to turn civil rights back to the states. Let each state have a different rule.’”

Biden said he supported Roe v. Wade’s “three trimester” rule that had been invented by the Supreme Court in 1973. Biden promised that if reelected, the country would “restore Roe v. Wade.”

Trump repeatedly hits Biden on border security

On the topic of immigration, Trump slammed Biden’s border policy, which he said has resulted in “the worst border in history.”

Record numbers of illegal immigrants have been crossing the southern U.S. border over the course of Biden’s presidency, often overwhelming local public and social welfare services across the nation. Trump claimed Biden “open[ed] up our country to people that are from prisons, people that are from mental institutions, insane asylums, terrorists.”

“There’s never been anything like it,” Trump said, at one point referencing the case of 12-year-old Texas resident Jocelyn Nungaray, who was recently murdered allegedly by an illegal immigrant.

Biden, meanwhile, criticized the family separation policy the Trump administration briefly implemented at the U.S. border. He boasted that his policies had recently resulted in significantly fewer illegal border crossings.

At times during the debate Biden seemed to struggle to express his thoughts, as during the immigration segment when he vowed if reelected to pursue a “total initiative relative to what we’re going to do with more Border Patrol and more asylum officers.”

“I really don’t know what he said at the end of that sentence. I don’t think he knows what he said either,” Trump said in response.

Opioid crisis, economy, Jan. 6

The candidates discussed a variety of other topics throughout the 90-minute debate, including the opioid crisis, which continues to wreak havoc in many parts of the country. 

Trump blamed the drug addiction crisis on Biden’s border policies, which he said have allowed more illicit substances to get into the country. Biden, meanwhile, called for increased technology at the border to help detect drugs like fentanyl in transnational shipments.

On the economy, meanwhile — which has been suffering from high inflation for much of Biden’s first term — the president blamed Trump’s handling of the COVID crisis as well as his economic policies, which he said resulted in “literally chaos.”

Trump, meanwhile, blamed the Biden administration for the ongoing inflation, claiming the crisis “blew up under his leadership because they spent money like a bunch of people that didn’t know what they were doing.”

The moderators at one point also brought up the Jan. 6, 2021, rioting that saw protesters storm the U.S. Capitol. Critics have alleged that Trump orchestrated the incident to stop Biden from being certified as president.

Trump was asked several times if he would accept the results of the 2024 election regardless of who wins. “If it’s a fair and legal and good election — absolutely,” Trump said finally.

Biden suggested Trump would not do so. “I doubt whether you’ll accept it because you’re such a whiner,” he said. “The idea if you lose again, you’re accepting anything — you can’t stand the loss.”

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At first presidential debate, Biden and Trump spar on abortion, immigration