A raspy Biden gets off to a halting start against Trump in the first 2024 presidential election debate

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A raspy Biden gets off to a halting start against Trump in the first 2024 presidential election debate

ATLANTA – Struggling with a raspy voice and delivering rambling answers, President Biden struggled during portions of Thursday night’s first of two debates with former President Trump in their 2024 election rematch.

But the 81-year-old Biden, the oldest president in American history, at times sharpened his answers, calling out his Republican predecessor in the White House for numerous falsehoods throughout the debate.

The two major party presumptive nominees traded fire over numerous issues, from the economy and inflation to immigration and border security, abortion, climate change, the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and overseas conflicts in Europe and the Mideast.

Biden’s campaign blamed the raspy voice on a cold, but the president’s uneven debate performance grabbed the vast majority of headlines from the debate, and sparked a new round of calls from political pundits and some Democrats for the president to consider stepping aside as the party’s standard-bearer. But top Biden allies pushed back against such talk as they defended the president and targeted Trump for lying throughout the debate. 

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President Joe Biden speaks as he participates in the first presidential debate of the 2024 elections with former US President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at CNN’s studios in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 27, 2024. (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

Biden, at the top of the debate, highlighted the economic gains during his presidency, touting that he had created jobs and was bringing down the cost of prescription drugs. But Biden acknowledged that “there’s more to be done.”

The president argued that Trump left him with an “economy in shambles,” charging that “things were in chaos.” 

Trump returned fire, charging that “inflation is killing our country,” touting that he created “the greatest economy in the world” before the COVID pandemic swept the globe during the last year of his presidency.

Biden, who faces questions over his physical and mental stamina as he seeks a second four-year term in the White House, appeared to lose his train of thought as he answered a question on the economy. At one point in his answer he said “excuse me, with, dealing with,” before concluding with “we finally beat Medicare” as time ran out on his answer.

Trump immediately pounced: “That’s right, he did beat Medicaid, he beat it to death. And he’s destroying Medicare.”

A few minutes later, as the two candidates traded fire over the issue of immigration, Trump pounced again after another rambling answer from Biden.

“I really don’t know what he said on this, and I don’t think he knows what he said either,” Trump said.

Trump Biden CNN debate

President Joe Biden (R) and Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump participate in the CNN Presidential Debate at the CNN Studios on June 27, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia. President Biden and former President Trump are facing off in the first presidential debate of the 2024 campaign. ( Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The president also fumbled an answer on abortion rights – a top issue for Democrats – as he stumbled in trying to explain the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion that was overturned two years ago by the conservative majority on the high court.

Trump hailed the ruling, arguing that “this is something that everybody wanted.”

Biden said that “it’s been a terrible thing, what you’ve done,” as he pointed to Trump. And Biden pledged to try and restore Roe v. Wade if he’s re-elected.

The crossfire on abortion was the first of many between the candidates during the debate.

Biden, evoking his eldest son Beau, who served in the Iraq War before dying of brain cancer, jabbed at Trump for reportedly calling Americans killed in combat “suckers and losers.”

“My son was not a loser, was not a sucker. You’re the sucker. You’re the loser,” Biden claimed.

Trump fired back, arguing that he never disparaged American troops and slammed Biden for the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in the summer of 2021, calling it “the most embarrassing day in the history of our country’s life.”

And Trump criticized Biden for presiding over “the worst presidency in the history of our country.”

Trump entered the debate one month after being convicted of 34 felony counts in the first criminal trial of a former or current president in the nation’s history.

Biden called Trump a “convicted felon” and argued that “you have the morals of an alley cat,” as he referenced allegations in the trial that Trump had sex with a porn actress.

“I did not have sex with a porn star,” Trump snapped back as he also brought up the felony convictions of Hunter Biden, the president’s sole remaining son.

And pointing to Biden, Trump said “he could be a convicted felon as soon as he gets out of office…This man is a criminal.”

Biden and Trump debate

President Biden and former President face off in the first presidential debate of the 2024 general election, in Atlanta, Georgia on June 27, 2024. (Getty Images)

Asked about his actions during the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters aiming to upend congressional certification of Biden’s 2020 election victory, the former president was unapologetic.

And Trump, who for years has repeatedly charged without proof that the 2020 election was “rigged” and “stolen,” equivocated when asked if he would accept the results of the 2024 election. Trump said he would accept them if the vote was “fair” and “legal.”

Speaking to supporters at a watch party after the debate, Biden didn’t mention his performance.

But he said “let’s keep it going” as he indicated he had no plans drop out of the race.”

“See you at the next one,” as Biden pointed to the second and final debate, which is scheduled to take place on Sept. 10.

At a late night stop at a Waffle House restaurant on the way to the airport, the president said “I think we did well” when asked by reporters about his performance.

Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking on CNN after the debate, acknowledged that “there was a slow start” for Biden, “but there was a strong finish.”

Longtime top political adviser to then-President Barack Obama David Axelrod, who has at times been critical of Biden, argued on CNN post-debate that “I think the panic had set in.”

“And I think you’re going to hear discussions that, I don’t know will lead to anything, but there are going to be discussions about whether he should continue,” Axelrod said of the president.

Top Biden surrogates, during a brief appearance in the post-debate spin room, defended the president.

“I will never turn my back on President Biden and I don’t know a Democrat in my party that would do so. And especially after tonight. We have his back,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters.

Asked about Biden’s halting performance, Newsom responded “how about the substance? I care about the substance.”

And Newsom said “none” when asked if he had any concerns about Biden’s fitness for office. “I have no trepidation.”

The Trump campaign quickly declared victory coming out of the debate.

“I think it was probably the greatest political debate win I’ve ever seen,” Trump campaign senior adviser Chris LaCivita told Fox News Digital. “There’s a lot of attention and there’s a lot of focus on how bad, god awful, President Biden was tonight on stage. He just didn’t look like he was all there.”

LaCivita said that “from the campaign standpoint, it’s just added rocket fuel… it helps greatly in terms of not only raising money and motivating the troops, but creates issues clearly for the Democrat nominee.”

But Biden campaign chair Jen O’Malley Dillon charged that “Trump’s performance tonight reminded the American people why they fired him four years ago and reinforced just how high the stakes are this November for the future of our country.”

She argued that Trump “offered a dark and backwards window into what America will look like if he steps foot back in the White House.”

The Biden campaign following the debate repeatedly spotlighted Trump’s falsehoods.

One release from the Biden campaign charged that “Trump lied…and lied… and lied.”

And the president, at his late night Waffle House stop, told reporters “it’s hard to debate a liar,” as he pointed to Trump.

The campaign also touted that they had their best grassroots fundraising day so far in the 2024 election cycle. The campaign highlighted that the 11p-12am ET hour was their best grassroots fundraising hour since the launch over a year ago, “besting its two record-breaking hours earlier this evening.” 

But storyline coming out of the debate was not the one the Biden campaign was hoping to have.

Veteran Iowa-based Republican strategist Nicole Schlinger made a point that was repeated countless times late on Thursday night. 

“Tonight, Joe Biden needed to show he’s fit for the job. He failed,” she argued. “Donald Trump needed to show he can be a disciplined leader, and he did.”

Only the Democratic incumbent and his Republican predecessor were on the stage, as the third party and independent candidates running for the White House – including Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – failed to reach the qualifying thresholds. 

To make the stage, candidates needed to reach at least 15% in four approved national surveys and to make the ballot in enough states to reach 270 electoral votes, which is the number needed to win the White House.

Trump and Biden bypassed the Commission on Presidential Debates – which had organized these quadrennial showdowns for over three decades – and instead mutually agreed on the rules and conditions for their 90-minute-long debate.

Those included no studio audience and each candidate’s microphone muted except when it was their turn to answer questions.

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The debate was held as polls indicate a very tight race between Biden and Trump, with the former president holding the slight edge in many national surveys and in the roughly half-dozen or so battleground states that will likely determine the election’s outcome.

Following the debate, Biden and Trump both stay in the South as they hold rallies in states they’re aiming to flip come November.

The president heads to Raleigh, North Carolina, where he’ll hold a rally Friday in a state he lost to Trump by a razor-thin margin in 2020.

While Biden’s in North Carolina, Trump will be rallying Friday in Virginia, which he lost by 10 points four years ago.

Get the latest updates from the 2024 campaign trail, exclusive interviews and more at our Fox News Digital election hub.

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