Biden seems to lose train of thought, often corrects himself

Trump calls Biden ‘a bad Palestinian’ as president’s halting debate showing rattles Dems

After US leader says Netanyahu backs ceasefire proposal laid out last month, predecessor claims Israel wants to continue the war and that it should be allowed to ‘finish the job’

This combination of photos shows Republican US presidential candidate former president Donald Trump, left, and President Joe Biden during a presidential debate hosted by CNN, June 27, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP/Gerald Herbert)
This combination of photos shows Republican US presidential candidate former president Donald Trump, left, and President Joe Biden during a presidential debate hosted by CNN, June 27, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP/Gerald Herbert)

US President Joe Biden and and former president Donald Trump rambled and jabbed each other with insults in a debate Thursday night that included exchanges about Israel’s war with Hamas and neo-Nazi violence.

Biden delivered a shaky, halting performance while his Republican rival battered him with a series of often false attacks, as the two oldest presidential candidates ever exchanged personal insults ahead of the November election.

The president’s poor performance rattled his fellow Democrats and will likely deepen voter concerns that the 81-year-old is too old to serve another four-year term.

The debate in Atlanta, moderated by CNN’s Dana Bash and Jake Tapper, was the first of two scheduled for this presidential election. The nominees faced each other in two debates in 2020. Biden bested Trump, then the incumbent, in that election.

Biden was hoarse, frequently corrected himself mid-sentence and on several occasions appeared to lose his train of thought.

Trump spoke robustly but in run-on sentences. He indulged numerous falsehoods about the 2020 election and the prosecutions and lawsuits he has faced.

The result was several bizarre moments, including one related to Israel’s war with Hamas. Trump accused Biden of not helping Israel “finish the job” against Hamas.

“He doesn’t want to do it. He’s become like a Palestinian,” Trump said of Biden during the section dealing with foreign policy. “But they don’t like him because he’s a very bad Palestinian. He’s a weak one.”

Biden said he had secured across-the-board agreement for his three-stage plan to end the war, including from Israel.

“Everyone from the United Nations Security Council, straight through the G7 to the Israelis and [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu have endorsed the plan that I put forward,” Biden said. “The only one who wants the war to continue is Hamas.”

Trump said Biden was wrong and that Israel did want the war to continue — and that it should. “Israel’s the one that wants to go. He said the only one who wants to keep going is Hamas,” Trump said. “Actually, Israel is the one, and you should let them go and let them finish the job. He doesn’t want to do it.”

Asked whether he’d support the establishment of a Palestinian state to secure peace in the region, Trump balked. “I’d have to see.”

As president, he unveiled a peace plan that would have created a Palestinian state alongside Israel, albeit a semi-sovereign and non-contiguous one.

Biden acknowledged withholding one shipment of 2,000-pound bombs from Israel, explaining that “they don’t work very well in populated areas. They kill a lot of innocent people.”

But he went on to argue that his administration has provided Israel with all other weapons that it needs and led the international effort to thwart Iran’s missile and drone attack against the Jewish state in April.

“We saved Israel. We are the biggest producer of support for Israel than anyone in the world,” Biden said.

He reiterated his assertion that Hamas has been “greatly weakened” by Israel, adding that the terror group “should be eliminated.”

“We continue to send our experts and our intelligence people to see how they can get Hamas like we did Bin Laden,” the president said.

Biden then clarified that Israel needs to be careful in using certain weapons in Gaza population centers.

Trump, as he has in the past, said he left office with Iran on its heels, and that it had rallied under Biden, allowing its proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah, to attack Israel.

US President Joe Biden, right, and Republican presidential candidate former president Donald Trump, left, during a presidential debate hosted by CNN, June 27, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP/Gerald Herbert)

Trump and Biden also clashed over the deadly neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, when Trump equivocated in condemning the marchers.

“He said ‘I think there are fine people on both sides,’” Biden said. “What American president would ever say Nazis coming out of fields carrying torches singing antisemitic bile while carrying swastikas are fine people?”

Trump repeatedly said Biden’s Charlottesville account was a lie that has been debunked. “He made up the Charlottesville story, and you’ll see it’s debunked all over the place,” he said.

At the time, Trump said on multiple occasions that there were bad and good people on both sides in Charlottesville. The marchers at Charlottesville were overwhelmingly neo-Nazis and white supremacists, and the counterprotestors were mostly peaceful.

Trump also retorted that the anti-Israel protests that rocked college campuses across the country over the past several months were much dangerous than the Charlottesville rally.

“We have the Palestinians, and we have everybody else rioting all over the place. You talk about Charlottesville. This is 100 times Charlottesville — 1,000 times,” Trump said.

Biden later referred to reports, from Trump’s late wife Ivana, and from Trump’s White House chief of staff John Kelly, that Trump had said that some things about Adolf Hitler were admirable.

Biden attempted to repeat one of the key moments in the 2020 debate, when Trump refused to renounce his white supremacist and extremist backers, instead calling on one far-right group to “stand back and stand by.”

Biden asked Trump to denounce the rioters who led the deadly insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, spurred by Trump’s call to overturn the election.

“I said, ‘Will you denounce the proud boys?’ He said, ‘No, I’ll tell them to stand by,’” Biden said. “Will you denounce these guys? Will you denounce the people we’re talking about now? Will you denounce the people who attacked the Capitol?”

Unlike in 2020, Trump ignored the challenge.

Trump also repeated a claim that his election alone would spur Russian President Vladimir Putin to release Evan Gershkovich, the Jewish Wall Street Journal reporter held prisoner for more than a year.

The two men also traded barbs on abortion, immigration, their handling of the economy and even their golf games as they each sought to shake up the race.

Biden, 81, and Trump, 78, were both under pressure to display their fitness for office. Biden has been dogged by questions about his age and sharpness, while Trump’s incendiary rhetoric and sprawling legal woes remain a vulnerability.

“Obviously, the biggest factor is that Biden still seemed old and raspy and less coherent than when he ran last time,” said Matt Grossmann, a political science professor at Michigan State University. “I don’t think Trump really did anything to help himself beyond his existing supporters, but I think it’s eclipsed by people’s impressions of Biden on his biggest vulnerability.”

One top Biden donor, who did not want to be identified while criticizing the president, called his performance “disqualifying” and said he expected a fresh round of calls for him to step aside ahead of the party’s national convention in August.

US President Joe Biden takes pictures with supporters as he visits a Biden-Harris campaign debate watch party in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 27, 2024, after Biden debated former US president and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. (Photo by Mandel NGAN / AFP)

Vice President Kamala Harris, appearing on CNN after the debate, acknowledged what she called Biden’s “slow start” but argued that voters should judge him and Trump based on their years in office.

“I’m not going to spend all night with you talking about the last 90 minutes when I’ve been watching the last three-and-a-half years of performance,” she told CNN host Anderson Cooper.

While national polls show a tied race, Biden has trailed Trump in polls of most battleground states that traditionally decide presidential elections. Just this month he lost his financial edge over Trump, whose fundraising surged after he was criminally convicted of trying to cover up hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels.

Neither Biden nor Trump is popular and many Americans remain deeply ambivalent about their choices. About a fifth of voters say they have not picked a candidate, are leaning toward a third-party candidate or may sit the election out, the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll showed.

The second and final debate in this year’s campaign is scheduled for September.

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