Abortion, immigration among issues expected to dominate Biden-Trump debate

Joe Biden and Donald Trump will square off in this election's first face-to-face debate on CNN June 27, 2024.

Trump and Biden on the debate stage

FILE - President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden participate in the final presidential debate at Belmont University, Oct. 22, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

President Joe Biden and his expected Republican challenger, Donald Trump, will participate in a debate Thursday at 9 p.m. ET.

The event will be held at CNN’s studios in Atlanta and marks their first face-to-face debate of the 2024 presidential campaign.

With polls suggesting a tight contest between Biden and Trump, the debate is a critical opportunity for both candidates to gain momentum in the final four months until the November election.

Key issues to expect

Biden is desperately seeking momentum amid pervasive concerns about his age and leadership on key foreign and domestic policies. Trump will step onto the stage brimming with confidence, despite his status as the only presidential debate participant ever convicted of a felony.

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While style sometimes matters more than substance on the debate stage, both candidates have serious policy challenges to navigate:


For Trump, no issue looms larger than abortion. His Supreme Court appointments while president enabled the court to overturn Roe vs. Wade, which triggered an avalanche of abortion restrictions across the nation. Trump has repeatedly said he was proud of his role in overturning Roe. And Biden will be eager to highlight Trump’s role.

Trump, of course, has said he would not support a national abortion ban if reelected. But given his track record on Roe, he may have more work to do if he hopes to convince women he can be trusted on a key health care issue.


Biden’s greatest political liability, meanwhile, may be immigration. The Democrat’s administration has struggled to limit the number of immigrants entering the country at the U.S.-Mexico border.

His allies privately acknowledge the issue is a major political liability heading into the fall. Trump loves nothing more than highlighting illegal immigration, so expect him to pound Biden on the issue.

War in Gaza

At the same time, Biden will face tough questions about his leadership in the war between Israel and Hamas. The president has alienated some would-be supporters on both sides given his staunch support — and occasional criticism — of Israel.

He’ll have a major opportunity to defend his record on the complicated issue Thursday night. It won’t be easy.


In an April poll by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, more Democrats said Biden had hurt than helped on the cost of living and immigration. The Biden campaign has been trying to salve that pain.

Republicans, meanwhile, aim to turn the election into a referendum on Biden’s handling of the economy. “My pitch is, are you happy with $4 a gallon gas and $6 for a jar of mayonnaise? If you’re not, it was not like that when Trump was in office,” said Suzanne Brown, a Peachtree City Council member who has canvassed for Republicans this spring.

Both candidates will be aiming to reach moderate, independent, swing voters who could decide the election. It’s not uncommon for a candidate to share an anecdote about an issue of importance to swing voters or in swing states. These can sometimes be vetted with follow-up reporting, which can lead to good stories about how accurate or representative the candidate’s version of events was. There may be clues on social media about an incident or issue they’ve referenced, but these should be vetted carefully with verifiable sources.

Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 but lost the state in 2020. With Michigan and Wisconsin, it’s part of a “blue wall” of states seen as crucial to deciding the election. Biden, who is originally from Scranton, has visited the state multiple times.

The suburbs around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are seen as key battlegrounds by both campaigns. Abortion rights are expected to be a central consideration for voters in the state, which has a substantial Catholic population but has kept abortion legal since the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion.

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