President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump squared off on Thursday night in the first of two scheduled debates of the 2024 presidential campaign. 

CNN hosted the debate, which took place in Atlanta. The network declared that the first presidential debate would be held without a live audience, but would include two commercial breaks—the first presidential debate in history to have ads. 

CNN also granted the debate moderators a new power; namely, the ability to mute one candidate when the other was speaking. 

Many of those decisions drew ire from critics, but the network’s choice of the debate’s two moderators probably drew the most criticism. Moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash have openly and consistently expressed disdain for Trump, accusing Trump of crimes ranging from Russian collusion and corruption to channeling Adolf Hitler and not “trusting the science” during COVID-19.

Tapper has made a point of refusing to show widely covered Trump rallies and speeches on CNN, explaining that Trump was too “mean” to air clips of him with audio. 

However, perhaps because of criticism of Tapper and Bash ahead of the debate, they were largely fair and evenhanded in their treatment of Trump.

Here are four of the major highlights of Thursday’s debate.

1. Medicare for Illegal Aliens?

When discussing his economic record, Biden appeared to lose his way, pausing for several seconds, stuttering, and leading to a claim that he “beat Medicare.”

“… Making sure we make every single solitary person eligible for what I’ve been able to do with COVID, excuse me, with umm, dealing with everything we had to deal with. Look, we finally beat Medicare,” the president said.

Trump responded: “Well, he’s right. He did beat Medicare. He beat it to death.”

Trump then claimed that a large number of illegal immigrants were allowed onto the Medicare and Social Security rolls. At the southern border, illegal immigrants who are taken into Customs and Border Protection or Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody are given medical treatment, shelter, and meals. The ICE Health Service Corps’ current policy is to reimburse those providing those services “at Medicare rates.”

While illegal immigrants are ordinarily not eligible for Medicare and Medicaid, noncitizen parents with “birthright citizenship” children are eligible for Medicaid.

Trump further suggested that Biden would destroy Social Security by overloading it with the cost of illegal immigrants added to the rolls. Biden announced a plan this week to provide some illegal immigrants with work permits and Social Security numbers, which would increase the spending burden on the struggling federal program.

2. Support for Late-Term Abortions?

As Trump and Biden discussed the topic of abortion, Biden appeared to equate the deaths of American women at the hands of illegal immigrants to purported efforts to stop women who are attempting to cross state lines to get abortions. 

“There’s so many young women who have been, including the young woman who just was murdered, and he went to the funeral, and the idea that she was murdered by an immigrant, they talk about that, but here’s the deal, there’s a lot of young women who are being raped by their in-laws, by their spouses, brothers and sisters. It’s just ridiculous … and they try to arrest them when they cross state lines,” Biden said. 

Biden emphasized that his party supports the restrictions on abortion imposed by Roe v. Wade. 

Trump argued that Biden and Democrats support allowing babies to die after they have been born alive, pointing to former Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s comments on what his critics called infanticide. 

Biden, angered by Trump’s remarks, emphatically argued that Roe v. Wade does not allow for late-term abortion. 

“We are not for late-term abortion. Period. Period. Period,” the president said. 

“Under Roe v. Wade, you have late-term abortion,” Trump said, pushing back. “You can do whatever you want, depending on the state. We don’t think that’s a good thing. We think it’s a radical thing. Democrats are the radicals, not the Republicans.”

3. Charlottesville and ‘Very Fine People’ 

Biden falsely claimed that Trump had said white supremacists and neo-Nazis were “very fine people” at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and that that 2017 event had inspired him to run for president.

Trump responded that the claim of “very fine people” on both sides had been debunked by “reputable” anchors. It was also debunked just this week by the fact-check site Snopes.

Trump actually said, “And you had people—and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists—because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists” to describe those attending a protest over a Confederate statue being taken down.

Snopes and other outlets fact-checked the claim that Trump had referred to “white nationalists” or “white supremacists” as “very fine people,” and rated the claim as “false.”

Biden reiterated that the claim had not been “debunked” and said that Trump was a “liar.”

4. Border Patrol Endorsement

Biden falsely claimed that he had been endorsed by the Border Patrol, saying, “By the way, the Border Patrol endorsed me, endorsed my position.”  

The Border Patrol Union fact-checked Biden in real time during the debate, tweeting: “To be clear, we never have and never will endorse Biden.”

The president also made rather garbled remarks discussing the need for more Border Patrol officers and more asylum officers, to which Trump responded: “I really don’t know what he said. I don’t think he knows what he said either.” 

“We had the safest border in the history of our country,” Trump added. “All he had to do is leave it. He decided to open up our border, open up our country, to people that are from prisons, people from mental institutions, insane asylums, terrorists. We have the largest number of terrorists coming into our country right now, all terrorists, all over the world … from the Middle East, everywhere.”