Democratic U.S. Representative Val Demings of Florida launched the attack on Tuesday during her first debate against Republican Senator Marco Rubio, accusing him of being a serial liar, while Rubio slammed her for supporting the economic agenda of President Joe Biden.
Rubio, a two-term senator, and Demings, a three-term congressman and former Orlando police chief, were questioned during the Lake Worth debate on topics including inflation, abortion, the right voting, gun violence, immigration and foreign policy.
Florida has moved increasingly to the right in recent election cycles, giving Rubio the edge as Republicans now lead Democrats with voter registration in the state. But Demings clearly saw the debate as an opportunity to confront Rubio hard as she tries to become the state’s first black female senator.
Rubio skirted the question of whether he would support a federal ban on abortion with no exceptions and instead called Demings’ position extreme because she wouldn’t say what limits on abortion she would support.
“Every abortion bill I’ve sponsored and every bill I’ve voted for has exceptions,” Rubio said.
“What we know is that the senator does not support any exceptions,” Demings replied. “He can make his mouth say anything today. He’s good at it, by the way. What day is it and what is Marco Rubio saying?
Following the Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade, Rubio expressed his personal opposition to abortion in any case while saying he would support restrictive abortion laws that include exceptions. Demings supports abortion access at least until fetal viability, saying the government shouldn’t be the only one to determine this.
On gun control, Demings accused Rubio of not doing enough to change laws to prevent shootings, including the massacres at Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016 and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in 2018.
“How long are you going to watch people get shot in freshman grade, fourth grade, high school, college, church, synagogue, grocery store, movie theater, mall, and a nightclub doing nothing?” said Demings.
But Rubio defended his opposition to gun restrictions, saying some proposals would not have stopped many mass shootings and that Americans have a Second Amendment right to protect themselves.
“Whatever she is for would have done nothing to stop one of these shootings,” Rubio said. “Each of these shooters would have passed the background check she insists on. No one here is in favor of mass shootings and violence.”
To fight inflation, Rubio said the United States needed to stop spending so much money, citing some pandemic relief funds, and boost domestic oil production. He chastised the Biden administration for its decision to release more oil from the US strategic reserve to help lower prices at the pump.
“Oil reserves don’t exist to win the mid-terms,” Rubio said.
Demings said the pandemic relief money was needed to help struggling families and businesses.
“Of course, the senator who never ran anything, but his mouth wouldn’t know anything about helping people and being there for people when they’re in trouble,” Demings said.
Rubio also attacked Demings for failing to pass legislation in Washington, saying all she did was get post offices named after people. Demings angrily dismissed his characterization, noting that the buildings were named after police officers who died in the line of duty.
“It’s embarrassing that you think honoring someone who was a hero by naming a federal building after them is nothing,” she said.
Demings has repeatedly accused Rubio of misrepresenting his record and his positions on the issues.
“I’m really disappointed in you, Marco Rubio, because I think there was a time when you didn’t lie to win,” she said.
Rubio argued that Demings was simply there to support the agenda of Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while calling himself the most effective senator.
“In my two terms there, no US senator has done more than me,” he said. “The only thing she does is vote 100% with Pelosi.”
When asked if he would accept the 2022 election results, Rubio replied: “Of course, because I will win.”
He later clarified that “whatever the outcome, I will support it, because Florida has good laws. It’s not crazy laws like in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.”
This story has been corrected to reflect that the debate took place in Lake Worth, not West Palm Beach.
This story was originally published October 18, 2022 5:14 p.m.