Policy Points of the First 2024 Presidential Debate

June 28, 2024 | NewsClient Alert


On the evening of June 27, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump faced off in the first debate of the 2024 presidential campaign, airing on CNN. Pre-debate polling and popular wisdom suggested the two candidates are running in a dead heat, creating the perception the debate could “make or break” either man. President Trump focused on familiar talking points related to topics like immigration, offering sparse details of his future policy plans. President Biden dinged Trump on his legal entanglements and controversial statements dating back to 2016. Biden also offered more details than Trump on his policies and accomplishments, especially his pitch to reduce consumer costs. However, Biden throughout the debate appeared diminished: he spoke softly and sometimes stumbled over his words. The debate’s outcome and public reaction is likely to raise stakes even higher for the upcoming presidential nominating conventions in August, as well as the next presidential debate set for September 10.

Michael Best Strategies’ bipartisan team closely monitored the debate. Partner and head of Michael Best Strategies’ Federal Affairs Practice Tami Buckner noted, “Our federal team recognizes the stark contrasts between the two leaders and is diligently monitoring and guiding our clients through these developments. With a bipartisan approach, we are actively helping our clients prepare for the possibilities in the upcoming presidential race, congressional elections, and other significant global changes.” Partner and Federal Procurement Practice Chair Sarah Helton agreed, “The two candidates couldn’t be more different in their approach to federal spending, tax, trade, and so many other issues. Yet critical decisions on all these topics will be required immediately from the next President.” Partner and head of Strategies’ Defense and National Security Practice Erik Berdy pointed out: “Our adversaries, as well as our allies and partners around the world, are watching with supreme interest. As our Presidential candidates square off over the coming months, their policies on national security will be a key focus area for Michael Best.”

Fact-checking resources for the debate:

Below are highlights of the business and consumer-relevant portions of the debate:

Inflation and customer costs: Both candidates returned to this topic several times, both noting consumer prices’ impact on voters’ outlooks. Biden repeated the Democratic argument that “corporate greed” contributed to post-pandemic inflation. He argued the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act allows federal officials to negotiate costs for select prescription drugs within Medicare, which he argued should be expanded to “all seniors… all Americans.” Biden also called for reducing the price of housing by growing homebuilding and capping rents. Later responding to a question on how inflation had specifically impacted Black Americans, Biden pointed out that unemployment is low. Biden concluded, “There’s more to be done… but we’ve done a great deal so far.” Biden also pointed to a recent open letter from prominent economists criticizing President Trump’s economic proposals as likely to increase inflation. President Trump countered that Biden is taking credit for “bounceback” jobs created by Trump Administration policies, and argued post-pandemic inflation came from poor governance by Biden.

Tax and trade: Biden repeated throughout the debate that he does not support tax increases for households earning less than $400,000 annually, but he did call for increasing taxes on “millionaires” and “billionaires” to support Social Security and other domestic programs. Biden has made similar promises since his 2020 campaign. Biden also called for reducing the cost of childcare by restoring the Child Tax Credit and expanding leave (presumably, referring to paid leave) for parents. 

Biden attacked President Trump’s support for Trump’s signature 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which he argued increased the U.S.’s budget deficit by lowering taxes for corporations and the wealthy. President Trump embraced Biden’s claim that the TCJA had lowered taxes for the wealthy, arguing these tax cuts drive a healthy economy. Trump affirmed that he intended to oversee more tax cuts in a second presidential term. Biden later noted Trump supports a 10% tariff on all imported goods, which he claimed would raise consumer costs for on everyday goods for all Americans.

Immigration and border security: President Trump turned most questions through the evening to immigration, arguing repeatedly that undocumented immigrants are displacing American workers, overwhelming the healthcare system, and increasing crime. CNN moderators pressed Trump for details on his promise to launch “the largest domestic deportation operation in American history,” though President Trump did not elaborate on this plan.

President Biden touted a bipartisan legislative proposal originally developed last February in the Senate to address undocumented immigration by increasing asylum processing as well as enforcement, while also allowing the President to shut down border crossings if they reach a certain threshold. This agreement failed twice in the Senate due to Republican opposition, including President Trump’s. President Trump dismissed as “insignificant” President Biden’s adoption of part of this plan into a recent executive order to halt border crossings once they reach a pre-set threshold.

Foreign policy and defense: President Trump argued that Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine and Hamas’ 2023 attack on Israel would not have happened if he was President, claiming that world leaders respected Trump more than Biden. President Biden countered that President Trump has a history of opposing international alliances like NATO, which Biden argued combine national military might to discourage aggression against any member.  

CNN moderators pressed President Trump for his views of the ongoing war in Ukraine, especially Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offer to halt the invasion if Russia may keep its occupied territory in Ukraine, and Ukraine abandons its NATO membership bid. Trump said Putin’s terms are not acceptable, but he did not outline an alternative plan. Trump also argued that Biden’s lasting support for Ukraine is a wasted effort because Ukraine is losing to Russia. Trump promised to have the war “settled” before taking office for his second term. Biden countered that Trump would instead allow Putin to conquer Ukraine and then invade neighboring nations like Poland, creating a larger war and greater risk to the rest of the world.

On the Israel-Hamas war, President Biden affirmed U.S. support for Israel and outlined a three-stage plan to end the conflict: trade remaining Hamas hostages for a short ceasefire, then extending the ceasefire for “further conditions,” then reaching a permanent end to the war. President Biden said the United States is supplying Israel with all the weapons they need, and reminded the audience of the U.S. and allies’ interception of an Iranian drone attack against Israel in April. President Trump in reply promised to be even more supportive of Israel compared to Biden, promising the nation support in “destroying Hamas.” 

The two candidates also clashed over domestic veterans’ policy: Trump argued veterans “can’t stand” Biden because immigrants have displaced their medical treatment. Biden cited his support for the PACT Act, which expanded Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health benefits to veterans exposed to burn pits and toxic substances.

Environment: CNN moderators noted President Trump has promised to end most of President Biden’s climate initiatives; they asked if President Trump would address climate change in other ways. Trump did not directly answer, but he defended his first Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement to limit greenhouse gases, dismissing it as a “waste of money.”

Elsewhere during the debate, Trump touted his deregulatory agenda, calling his presidency the “largest regulation cut in history.” This echoed Trump in a Fox interview earlier this month, where he discussed plans to cut the Department of Interior as well as “the environmental agencies…They make it impossible to do anything.” Trump campaign officials have also hinted that President Trump, if elected, would move to reduce green energy tax credits created under the Inflation Reduction Act.

Conclusion: A bitter debate: Amid defense and economic policy discussions, the candidates also clashed on topics including divisive social issues, President Trump’s legal troubles, President Biden’s family, and each other’s physical and mental fitness. Amid the intense negativity, both candidates tried to wrap on a positive note: President Trump declared the U.S. a “failing nation” under President Biden and invoked his original “make America great again” motto. President Biden reiterated his promise to “fight inflation and give people a break” by avoiding tax increases for middle-class earners as well as to lowering drug prices and childcare costs.

Next, both candidates will go on to their presidential nominating conventions: the Republican National Convention is set for July 15-17 in Milwaukee, and the Democratic National Convention is set for August 19-21. Our team continues to track the campaign season for our clients. To learn more about the presidential race or upcoming conventions, contact your Michael Best servicing team. 

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