In their first debate of 2024, President Biden and former President Trump sparred on policy areas like veteran care, regulations and immigration.

In their first debate of 2024, President Biden and former President Trump sparred on policy areas like veteran care, regulations and immigration. Justin Sullivan / GETTY IMAGES

The major takeaways for federal employees from the first presidential debate

President Biden and former President Trump clashed over the role of government and their vision for how to manage agencies.

President Biden and former President Trump on Thursday squared off in the first debate of the 2024 cycle, offering a fiery discussion over the ways they would shake up and deploy various parts of the federal government. 

Biden repeatedly emphasized how he has leaned on federal agencies to implement his vision over his first term and suggested he would continue to reform and expand their roles in a second term. Trump, on the other hand, spoke of governmental overreach and vowed to rein in what he has derided as “the deep state.” 

Here is a summary of the notable comments and promises the candidates made related to the functioning of the federal government: 

Agency management 

  • Trump boasted of overseeing the “largest regulation cut in history,” a claim referencing his executive orders to force agencies to roll back more regulations than they instituted. He also inserted “regulatory reform officers” at every agency. Biden quickly revoked those orders and has expanded agencies’ regulatory reach, a move Trump derided. 
  • Both candidates blasted their opponent for their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump highlighted Biden’s vaccine mandates, one of which extended to federal employees. Most federal workers came into compliance with the mandate before Biden ended it in 2023. 
  • Trump boasted that he fired many people in federal government, including former FBI Director James Comey. He said Biden “never fires anyone,” including those managing the border or involved in the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Biden has overseen unusual stability in his top ranks, while Trump saw unprecedented turnover. 


  • The former president accused the current one of getting rid of “choice” for veterans, a program that enables eligible former service members to receive care in the private sector on the government’s dime. That is inaccurate, as such “community care” has only continued to expand under Biden’s watch. Biden rejected Trump’s accusation and said his administration had done “more for veterans than any president has in American history.” 
  • Biden noted that he signed the PACT Act into law, which has newly offered Veterans Affairs Department care to millions of veterans who were exposed to burn pits during their service. 

Border Security 

  • Biden said he has overseen the staffing up of asylum officers and Border Patrol agents. He also promoted a bill he helped negotiate with lawmakers to reform immigration policy and added thousands of additional employees across the Homeland Security Department. Biden boasted that bill won the support of the National Border Patrol Council, a federal employee union, and he said he would see those proposals through if re-elected. 
  • Trump declined to answer whether or how he would seek to deport every undocumented immigrant currently residing the United States, as he has promised and as would be highly unlikely to ever occur, instead suggesting Biden’s policies have allowed many more migrants to enter the country. The former president suggested reinstituting policies he put into place, such as Remain in Mexico, would drive down apprehensions at the border.  

Climate change

  • Biden highlighted his creation of the American Climate Corps, which aims to recruit tens of thousands of young Americans into green jobs, many of which are expected to go to jobs within federal agencies. He criticized Trump for pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement and boasted of the money he won for federal agencies to fight climate change through the Inflation Reduction Act. 
  • Trump noted he wants “immaculately clean water” and air, but criticized Biden’s efforts to expand federal authority to tackle the climate crisis.