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Fact-checking claims made by Biden and Trump during the first 2024 presidential debate

Scripps News delves into some of the claims made by both candidates Thursday night and fact-checks their validity.
Election 2024 Debate
Posted at 7:30 PM, Jun 27, 2024

The first presidential debate of the 2024 election season was an intense meeting between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump — two men who shared the debate stage again for the first time in nearly four years.

Thursday's debate featured some new rules, agreed to by both candidates, with the goal of avoiding insults and interruptions. Microphones were muted when it wasn't a candidate's turn to speak, and there was no live audience in the room.

But as the presumptive Democratic and Republican presidential nominees took the stage Thursday night, both already had a history of making false, misleading, or simply exaggerated statements.

The Scripps News team followed along to delve into some of the claims made by both candidates and to fact-check their validity.

CLAIM: On abortion, Trump suggested some Democrat-led states support laws that allow doctors to "rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month."

  • There is no evidence that any Democrat of any influence has ever proposed this. Trump first made allegations along these lines specifically about then-Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. Northam said in a 2019 radio interview that, in situations wherein an unhealthy fetus was not expected to survive long outside the womb, a woman and her doctors would discuss whether to attempt resuscitation. Trump characterized this as Northam allowing women to "execute" newborns. More recently, Trump has repeated this claim in reference to Democrats' rejection of a bill banning the murder of newborns. Democrats argued both that that bill was redundant (it is already illegal to kill a newborn) and that its wording risked forcing doctors' hands in unforeseen situations. Republicans, on the other hand, argued the bill addressed certain gaps in criminal penalties at the federal level.

CLAIM: Biden took credit for lowering the price of insulin from $400 per shot to $15 a dose.

  • Insulin manufacturers committed to implementing $35 caps on out-of-pocket insulin costs for those on Medicare after President Biden signed into law the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act. But the statement that Americans used to pay $400 per dose is misleading. A study released in 2022 by the Department of Health and Human Services found that diabetics on Medicare or private insurance paid roughly $450 per year for insulin prior to the Inflation Reduction Act.

CLAIM: Trump said rioters at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, were "ushered in by the police."

  • While we can’t determine the motivations of every individual rioter, the people who breached the Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021, participated in a riot, and at least part of that group intended to overthrow the sitting government. Even “violent protest” is an understatement when you look at the evidence, and many rioters' guilt has been proven in court. According to DOJ, as of May 2024:
    - More than 1,400 people had been charged with crimes related to the attack.
    - More than 500 were charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement.
    - More than 130 were charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon, or causing serious harm to an officer.
    - Four pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy. 
    - More than 160 people had been found guilty at contested trials. 
    - More than 800 people had had their cases adjudicated and received sentences.

CLAIM: Trump said his hush-money case was "a Biden trial." 

  • Neither Trump nor any of his attorneys or supporters have produced credible evidence that Biden orchestrated, ordered or suggested this investigation. Per PolitiFact, it began before Biden was president and shortly after Michael Cohen, a Trump attorney, pleaded guilty to tax and campaign finance crimes, among others. As for the timing: The investigation into Trump himself was reportedly delayed by the pandemic and by staff turnover. Newly elected Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg took over the case from his predecessor, Cyrus Vance, and indictments were held off due to Trump's status as a sitting president.

CLAIM: Trump said the Biden administration is responsible for "the largest deficit in the history of our country."

  • This statement is at least misleading. Trump cited a need to eliminate or at least reduce the debt while on the campaign trail in 2016. However, neither Trump nor President Biden reduced the public debt, and neither has come anywhere near the historic low of about $34,000 in 1835 (unadjusted).

CLAIM: Biden said, "I don't have any troops dying anywhere in the world."

  • At least 16 American troops have been killed while Biden has been president. Three were killed during a drone strike at a U.S. military base in Jordan earlier this year. The deaths were the first U.S. fatalities blamed on Iran-backed militia groups, who for months have been intensifying their attacks on American forces in the region following the onset of the Israel-Hamas war in October, according to The Associated Press. Separately, two U.S. Navy SEALs died during a mission in January while attempting to intercept a ship carrying Iranian-made weapons. And in 2021, 13 U.S. servicemembers were killed in a suicide bombing attack at the Kabul airport during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

CLAIM: Biden said Trump has been charged with "having sex with a porn star."

  • A jury found former President Donald Trump guilty on 34 counts of falsifying business records in his New York criminal hush money trial, including records related to an alleged affair with porn star Stormy Daniels. However, Trump has not been charged or convicted of "having sex with a porn star."

CLAIM: Trump said dangerous criminal immigrants are crossing the border.

  • While it's true some undocumented immigrants have committed violent crimes, characterizing an influx of migrants as an influx of dangerous criminals is not supported by data. Studies have shown over and over again that undocumented immigrants are less likely to be arrested or convicted of crimes than U.S.-born citizens. Other analyses have shown that surges of immigrants into specific areas do not correlate with increases in violent crime in those areas. According to Customs and Border Protection data, in fiscal year 2023, "criminal noncitizens" — which it defines as people convicted of a crime in the U.S. or abroad — comprised 0.4% of overall CBP encounters. That’s about 15,000 people out of more than 3.2 million. Because of the way CBP data is recorded and organized, it's unclear how many of those 15,000 people had been convicted of violent crimes.

CLAIM: Trump said under his presidency, "We had the greatest economy in history."

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article listed only two incidents involving deaths of American troops, erroneously omitting other causalities. The article has been updated to reflect the deaths of 13 members of the U.S. military in a 2021 attack in Afghanistan, bringing the total to at least 16 deaths.