Skip to main content


Rubio takes command in heated Florida debate with Demings

Florida candidates spar on immigration, inflation, foreign policy, gun rights and abortion

October 19, 2022 9:14am

Updated: October 19, 2022 12:45pm

Incumbent GOP Sen. Marco Rubio took command of Tuesday night’s debate with Florida Democratic Rep. Val Demings as the two sparred over issues such as inflation, gun rights, immigration and foreign policy.

One issue the moderators dodged during the debate held at Palm Beach State College’s Lake Worth campus was U.S. policy on Cuba, a hot button issue for Florida, which has an estimated two million Cuban American citizens.

It is also an issue that is a key priority for Rubio’s Cuban American base and fellow Miamians, but an issue that is rarely the focus of legislators from north and central Florida where Demings is from. Demings served four years as the police chief for the City of Orlando from 2017-2011 before she was elected to the House of Representatives in 2017.

Many of the questions by the debate moderator and two panelists seemed geared toward hot button issues for Democrats. 

The debate moderator and panelists—journalists from local network news, Florida Trend magazine and the Palm Beach Post—also refrained from talking about rising crime rates, an issue that is of vital importance to Republican voters.

The debate was heated and at times drew cheers and laughter from the audience in response to many of Rubio’s responses during the second phase of the debate while the audience remained mostly silent when Demings spoke, except a round of applause after he closing statement.

A recent poll of likely voters conducted by Spectrum News/Siena College in September has Rubio leading Demings 48% to 41% and Fox News' Power Rankings currently ranks the Florida Senate race as “lean[ing] Republican” in the upcoming November 8 midterm election.


When asked about immigration, Rubio said Demings was supporting President Joe Biden’s policies at the border, which he attributed to creating a national crisis and Demings pushed her law enforcement background to assert that she took the problem at the border seriously.

They were specifically asked whether they support a new policy change in which the Biden administration has opted to send Venezuelans who arrive at America's border back to Venezuela, while also barring them from applying for asylum in America again.

When Demings asserted that Rubio was oversimplifying the border crisis and president’s policies, Rubio fired back, “You mean Joe Biden just instituted Trump's return to Mexico policy. There's not more to it, that's exactly what he did. Congresswoman Demings said what's happening at the border is nothing unusual. We have 5,000 people a day crossing the border. You know how many people have entered our country illegally since Joe Biden took over as president? Five million."

Rubio went on to add that the immigration crisis was unsustainable.

"There's no country in the world that can tolerate, or permit, or afford, 5,000 people a day arriving at your border saying the magic words and getting asylum. And she says that's not a problem. She says there's nothing unusual about it. This cannot continue. It has to be fixed."

Demings said that she felt her time as a police officer and chief adequately prepared her for the job and that she was all for “boots on the ground” and enforcement of the law.

She retorted, “We're a nation of laws. I've enforced them for 27 years…Despite what the senator wants you to believe, he's living in fantasy land. We need to make sure the men and women at the border have the resources they need. I'm a fan of boots on the ground, but we need to hire more processors… We're a nation of laws. We have to enforce the law, but we also have to obey the law that says people who are in trouble can seek asylum in this country.”

Rubio said he wanted to know “which boots on the ground” Demings was in favor of, accusing the Orlando area Congresswoman of opposing the use of the National Guard to secure the border, and Demings responded that she wanted to ensure the Border Patrol were adequately staffed.

“The senator likes to talk about open borders. It's almost an insult to the men and women who are there securing the border,” she added, also explaining that she believed the U.S. needed to hire more “processers” to ensure that those honestly seeking asylum could be processed quicker and not be accidentally turned away.

Rubio, in response, said that adding more processers will only encourage more migrants to try and use the justification of asylum as a pretense to enter the country.  

After some more sparring about which legislator was more committed to helping the Border Patrol, Rubio took a shot at Demings, saying the “only one who's insulted the people working the border are Joe Biden and Democrats who accuse them of whipping Haitian migrants and that turned out to be true.”

Foreign policy

On the issue of foreign policy, both Rubio and Demings agreed the U.S. should oppose Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and support Kyiv in its struggle against Moscow’s military invasion.

Rubio said he was anti-Putin before it was “cool” to be anti-Putin and took aim at the Democratic Party, citing mistakes former President Barack Obama made in 2014 when Putin invaded Crimea and the U.S. was unresponsive. Demings repeatedly asserted the U.S. needed to do whatever it could to support Ukraine and both candidates agreed that under any circumstance the United States must support its NATO allies if they are drawn into the conflict by a Russian attack.

Rubio asserted NATO had already been attacked, suggesting the recent ruptures of the Nord Stream pipelines were a false flag attack caused by Russia.

Demings said the U.S. needed to push back against China when it acted badly, and Rubio noted that he co-sponsored or help author most of the legislation in the past several years calling for accountability against China.

The veteran Florida senator said that he authored so much legislation targeting the communist regime that the CCP sanctioned him personally, a move he said “disappointed” him because he had to “cancel his vacation to Wuhan.”

The sarcastic comment received uproarious laughter from the audience.

Inflation and the economy

Rubio faulted government spending for a recent a spike in inflation, arguing that Democrats “were warned by [former Clinton Treasury Secretary] Larry Summers, by other Democrat economists, you do this, you're gonna fire up inflation” and insisted that one resolve to the issue would be the production of American oil.

“We've got to produce American oil again," Rubio hammered. “Why are we begging Saudi Arabia for oil? Why are we begging Venezuela and Iran for oil? We're producing a million barrels a day less on oil than we used to do just a couple of years ago. Instead, we are depleting our reserves. Our oil reserves do not exist to win midterms. They exist to help this country in an emergency or in the midst of a storm. What we cannot do is some of these crazy policies that are coming from the left that Congresswoman Demings has supported.”

Demings took aim at Rubio, saying, “Of course the senator who has never run anything at all but his mouth would know nothing about helping people and being there for people when they are in trouble. No one planned the pandemic, but our response to it is everything. Individuals were hurting, families were hurting, businesses were hurting. We passed the CARES Act… Your number one job as a United States Senator is to protect the safety, health, and wellbeing of the American people,” she added. “You've been at it for 24 years…” referencing Rubio’s time in both Florida state and U.S. federal politics.

Another issue that was of key importance to Floridians was the issue of insurance. The moderator and panelists asked what the legislators would do to get federal involvement in insuring Florida homes. Demings said she felt they should do more to get Floridians assistance while Rubio said it was a complicated and dangerous line to cross.

The veteran Florida senator said insurance was a state concern, and that Floridians should not invite or rely upon the federal government. He made the comparison to the federal government’s handling of the U.S. Postal Service, musing that their lack of expedience was demonstrative of the federal government’s inability to handle crises adequately.

Second Amendment rights and gun control

One issue that is also of particular concern to Floridians is gun violence. In the wake of the recent life sentence handed to Parkland high school shooter Nikolas Cruz, concern about how to deal with gun violence has become a popular issue of debate.

Demings said Rubio had not done enough on the issue and did little to pass legislation that would prevent dangerous people from getting a hold of weapons to hurt others

“You've done nothing,” she said. “Nothing to address gun violence and help to get dangerous weapons out of the hands of dangerous people. Our primary responsibility is the safety of Floridians and senator, 24 years in elected office and you have not yet risen to that occasion and then when asked about it you say something that makes no sense.”

Rubio responded, “What makes no sense is that we're gonna actually pass laws that only law-abiding people will follow and criminals will continue to violate… The truth of the matter is that at the end of the day, Americans have a Second Amendment right to protect themselves.

“These killers that are out there,” he continued. “If there intent is killing as they are, they have found multiple ways to get ahold of weapons and cause mass destruction. … I have a bipartisan red flag law, sponsored with Sen. Jack Reed, but the problem is that the leftists in the Senate, and in the House, like Congresswoman Demings are against it because they want the California red flag law that allows your coworker who has a grudge against you to go to a judge and take away your guns. That, I'll never support."


On the issue of abortion both Rubio and Demings struggled to explain their position on a complicated issue in which both sides have taken aim at another.

Demings repeatedly accused Rubio supports no exemptions for the procedure, including rape and incest, while Rubio said Demings supports “no restrictions, no limitations” on abortion.

“The extremist on abortion in this campaign is Congresswoman Demings,” Rubio said. “She supports no restrictions, no limitations of any kind. She's against the fourth-month ban, she voted against the five-month ban. She supports taxpayer funded abortion, on demand, for any reason, at any time, up until the moment of birth.”

Demings smiled and shook her finger as if to admonish Rubio.

“Senator, how gullible do you really think Florida voters are," the former police chief said. “You have been clear that you support no exceptions, even including rape and incest. Now as a police detective who investigated cases of rape and incest, no, senator, I don't think it's okay for a ten-year-old girl to be raped and have to carry the seed of her rapist. No, I don't think it's okay for you to get to make decisions for women and girls as a senator. I think those decisions are made between the woman, her family, her doctor, and her faith.”

Demings added that she “supports a woman's right to choose up until the time of viability.”

Rubio fired back that her language used a “vague” term that many Democrats use to sound as if they are providing a succinct answer on limitations.

“Every law I've ever passed has exceptions,” Rubio said. “We're never gonna get a vote on a law that doesn't have exceptions cause that's where the majority of the American people are and I respect and understand that.”

Getting personal

The debate was high spirited as both candidates took aim at another at times.

Rubio repeatedly said Demings “never passed a bill” during her “half decade” serving in Congress.

“The congresswoman likes to talk about helping people. She's never passed a bill. She's never passed a single bill. She's been in Congress for over half a decade, she's never passed a bill. Not [Paycheck Protection Program], not anything. Not a single thing she's passed has ever become law.”

He did acknowledge however that she passed two measures to name post office buildings after fallen police officers, and further pointed out to the crowd that Demings had voted consistently with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi 100% of the time.

Demings fired back and said the senator was not stating the facts accurately.

“I'm really disappointed in you, Marco Rubio, because I think there was a time when you did not lie in order to win. I don't know what happened to you. You know that's not true,” she said. Demings she passed a Congressional measure to “help law enforcement officers with mental health programs.”

According to PolitiFact, “Demings sponsored two pieces of legislation that became law — a fact Rubio acknowledged, and dismissed, earlier in the debate. The bills renamed post office buildings, including one after Robert German, a Windermere, Florida, police officer who was shot and killed while working in 2014…”

“Rubio is right that Demings agreed with 100% of votes taken by Pelosi since the 117th Congress began in 2021 — though it is a tradition of House speakers not to take many votes. Pelosi has participated in about 13% of the 925 votes in this session. The pair broke on more than 30 votes in the 2017-18 session.

Executive Editor

Gelet Martínez Fragela

Gelet Martínez Fragela is the founder and editor-in-chief of ADN America. She is a Cuban journalist, television producer, and political refugee who also founded ADN Cuba.