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Biden stumbles badly as he slugs it out with Trump in historic debate

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on gun violence prevention in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on April 8, 2021. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)

The first presidential debate started with President Joe Biden freezing and seeming to forget the policy he wanted to reference before running out of time, and devolved quickly into name calling and claims the other man was the worst president in the history of the country.

When Biden and former President Donald Trump mounted the stage in Atlanta Thursday night, they each made history for age and stature, but it was Biden stumbling badly that stuck.

“That was painful,” said Van Jones on CNN after the cable channel’s debate. “He had a test to meet tonight … and he failed.” The ardent Biden backer admitted the party needs another option.

“I’m worried about the president. We should pray for the president,” said Scott Jennings, a conservative CNN panelist.

The audience-less debate, the earliest ever held ahead of a general election, started shortly after 9 p.m. after the candidates, in their first public interaction since the debates of 2020, declined to shake hands or exchange pleasantries before taking to their podiums.

CNN anchors Jake Tapper and Dana Bash explained the rules for the 90-minute debate, including that each man’s individual microphone would remain muted while the other spoke, and that there would be two breaks, during which time neither candidate could speak to campaign staff. No prewritten notes were allowed.

Biden took the stage first and took the first question, which was on inflation.

The president said he inherited a broken economy, and created, “15,000” jobs, when in fact his administration has seen 15 million added. Biden seemed to trail off as he was speaking, and seemed to forget a law he’d signed and that he wanted to name in order to make his point.

Trump said he had “the greatest economy in the history of our country” and that everyone was doing well, until COVID.

“I gave you the largest tax cut in history,” Trump said, before defending more proposed tax cuts.

Trump blamed Biden for seeing more COVID deaths under his watch and for “doing a vaccine mandate.”

“The damage he’s done to our country…” Trump said.

“He had the largest national debt of any president in a four year period,” Biden said, before saying Trump’s tax cuts helped only the extremely wealthy.

Abortion was next. Trump, moderators said, takes credit for overturning Roe v. Wade.

“Correct,” he said, before saying he would not block the use of medication abortion.

“This is something that everybody wanted,” he said. “Every legal scholar, throughout the world, wanted it brought back to the states.”

“It’s been a terrible thing that you’ve done,” Biden said in response. “This idea that (legal scholars) are all against it is all ridiculous.”

Trump claimed that some states allow a child to be aborted after birth.

“That is simply not true,” Biden said. “We are not for late term abortion. Period.”

Biden defended his work on the border, pointing to recent executive actions that have reduced cross-border traffic by 40%.

“We have the largest numbers of terrorists coming into our country right now,” Trump said.

“He’s exaggerating, he’s lying,” Biden said. “Every single thing he said is a lie.”

Biden defended his record on veterans, pointing to the PACT Act and its protections for servicemembers exposed to toxins. He took aim at Trump for failing to attend a military ceremony in France while president. He brought up Trump’s alleged assertion that veterans were “suckers and losers,” before saying his deceased son, who served in the Army, was not a sucker or loser.

“You’re a loser,” Biden said.

Turning to Ukraine, Trump said Russian Vladimir Putin would not have invaded if he were president, saying the Afghanistan withdrawal emboldened Putin.

“That was the biggest bunch of Malarkey I’ve heard in my whole life,” Biden said.

“If we had a leader this would have never happened,” Trump said. “I will have that war settled before I take office.”

“I’ve never heard so much foolishness,” Biden said, while defending his support of Ukraine and his defense of Israel.

Trump was asked about his role in the sacking of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. He did not violate his oath of office that day, he said.

“I said peacefully and patriotically,” Trump said, before claiming he offered National Guard support to then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

“He encouraged those folks,” Biden said. “He sat there for three hours.”

Trump said Biden, like him and the president’s son, could be a convicted felon soon after leaving office.

Biden attacked Trump for his past indiscretions, calling attention to his history with porn star Stormy Daniels and his alleged sexual abuse of author E. Jean Carol.

“You have the morals of an alley cat,” Biden said.

“My poll numbers went way up,” Trump said.

When asked about the climate, Trump said under him the nation had the “cleanest water” and that Biden has ruined it.

“I don’t know where the hell he’s been? The idea that anything he said is true…” Biden said.

Biden said that he could fix social security by taxing the ultra-wealthy, and that Trump wants to end the program.

“I’ve never seen anybody lie like this guy,” Trump said. “Everything he does is a lie. It’s misinformation and disinformation.”

Both men accused each other of being the worst president in the history of the country.

Biden again struggled in his closing in a debate that had him starting poorly and finishing weakly.

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