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Val Demings and Marco Rubio
Val Demings and Marco Rubio held their only debate in the race for U.S. Senator from Florida last night, Oct. 18. Photos: Getty Images.

Marco Rubio and Val Demings talk immigration, voting rights, and Russia during sole Senate debate

The “Before You Vote” debate was held at Palm Beach State College’s campus and moderated by WPBF 25 anchor Todd McDermott.

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On Tuesday night, Oct. 19, Senator Marco Rubio and his Democratic opponent, Rep. Val Demings, took part in the sole debate in the Florida Senate race that covered a wide range of crucial issues in the country, such as voting rights, voting integrity, immigration and the border, China and U.S. relations, and the ongoing Russia and Ukraine war. 

Moderated by WPBF 25 anchor Todd McDermott and held at the Palm Beach State College’s Lake Worth Campus, it was an entertaining hour of fast-paced debating, fiery exchanges, and the usual constant interruption. The seasoned veteran, Rubio, who has participated in many debates, and a former Presidential candidate back in 2016, was quick and polished with his answers. 

Demings was the newcomer in regards to the debate scene and opted to go at the Senator over what she considered to be nonsense and lies. She also tried to cast the Florida Senator as cold, heartless, and disconnected on certain issues. 

Immigration & the Border 

On Oct. 12, the Department of Homeland Security announced that amid the huge influx of Venezulan migrants crossing the border, the Biden administration will now reject most migrants crossing the southern border and send them back to Mexico. Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that migrants who attempt to cross the border without the newest authorization, will also be ineligible to apply for entry in the future. 

McDermott posed a question to Rubio about if he supported the new policy from the Biden administration to which he answered with the common Republican talking points regarding the border. In other words, he slammed the administration, and cited “5,000 people a day” crossing the border and  “5 million” since Biden took over as president. Rubio also attempted to paint those crossing the border as criminals.

He took some debating techniques from former President Donald Trump as he also went on about his sympathy for migrants, adding that “no other has done more for Latin Americans than him.” 

“I sympathize deeply with everything these people are facing. And I blame Maduro for that. But there's no country in the world that can tolerate or permit or afford 5,000 people a day arriving at their border, saying the magic words and getting asylum. And she says it's not a problem. She says there's nothing unusual about it. This cannot continue,” Rubio said. 

When it came time for Demings to talk on solutions she has for the issues at the border, she cited support for more Border Patrol agents as well as better technology to streamline the effort and catch more bad actors. 

“We are a nation of laws. Despite what the Senator wants you to believe, I've enforced them. Let's have more boots on the ground,” said Demings. “Let's hire more processes so that we can separate those who need to be arrested from those who are seeking asylum.”

Russia & NATO 

Amid the ongoing Russia war on Ukraine, Biden recently said the world is closer to nuclear Armageddon than any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis, 60 years ago this month. Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian missile attacks and Ukrainian cities targeting and killing civilians three different times in the last week. The two candidates were asked what the U.S. response should be if Russia decides to attack NATO allies. 

Demings opted for the easy answer while not directly addressing what kind of response would actually be taken if an attack, for instance, would happen on NATO allies such as Poland.

“Russia has attacked our friend Ukraine in what they thought was going to be over in a few days. As you know, it has been going on for almost a year. We have to continue to support Ukraine and our NATO allies. We've got to hold Russia accountable. We always use diplomacy around the NATO table, we cannot afford to have a nuclear attack. The United States has to do everything in its power to prevent that from happening,” she said. 

Rubio answered the question with more specifics about what the appropriate response would be according to him if, for example, Russia were to attack Poland in any way. 

“One is the use of the tactical weapon, which is not a strategic weapon,” said Rubio. We are talking about the use of artillery shells and short range missiles in the battlefield, which would be unprecedented. NATO would have to come together and decide whether they're going to invoke Article 5, and the United States needs to live up to its NATO commitments.” 

Voting Rights & Voting Integrity 

Earlier this year, Florida Governor. Ron DeSantis signed a new bill concerning voting that carries a number of restrictions to the process with the hopes of making local and state elections more secure. The bill requires more information to update existing voter registrations. It limits who can collect and drop off ballots as well as limits where and when drop boxes may be used. 

Executive Editor of the Palm Beach Post, Rick Christie, asked both candidates questions in regards to voting rights, and drop boxes. In the question posed to Demings, Christie quoted Rubio in relation to when he called the Democrats attempts to pass a new Federal Voting Rights Law an effort to “ram through an election law to make sure you never lose power to make it easier for Democrats to win,” and asked why new federal protections of voting rights are needed. 

“The senator thinks that we should leave that up to the states, '' said Demings. “We should not just protect the right for a few people or the privileged few, but for everyone.”

She went on to say how the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and another piece of legislation remain sitting in Congress for a vote.   

Christie posed a similar question to Rubio in which he referenced a piece Rubio wrote in the Federalist, a conservative online magazine, that Democrats pushing for voting rights is about “exaggerated problems and imaginary fears,” to which Christie asked if Rubio could clarify his comments. 

“It's never been easier to vote. In Florida, you can now vote by mail for any reason. You can vote, for example, 10 days before the election. You can vote on Election Day in Georgia, which they claim to be the place that was suppressing all the votes. You had record African-American voter turnout,” Rubio said. 

He continued about the lack of ID requirements in voting as well as the state’s elections laws. 

“When you go vote, you show an ID. I have been a Hispanic man my entire life. I've never felt like producing an ID disadvantages my ability to vote,” he said. “We don't need that federal law imposed on every state. Florida has very good election laws. The states that don't have very good election laws are the states that actually have gone in the opposite direction of weakening security for the ballot.” 

China & U.S. Relations 

In what was the final topic of the night before closing statements, the two candidates were asked about the future of U.S. and China relations as tensions have risen recently in regards to Taiwan, and manufacturing being moved to the East Asian country as they become a direct competitor with the U.S. On Monday, Chinese President Xi Xingping made a speech on the opening day of the ruling party meeting which included threats to Taiwan, and laid out the country’s five year plan. He also added that the country “will crack down hard on infiltration, sabotage, subversion, and separatist activities by hostile forces.” 

“We know that China has not been the best player, the best actor, and we have to hold them accountable. What President Xi said about possibly taking Taiwan by force is totally against our principles and our values,” said Demings, before citing her service on the House Intelligence Committee, where Rubio also serves in the Senate. “If China makes any aggressive or deliberate actions to take Taiwan, then there has to be a response from the United States.” 

Rubio answered by citing his own legislative history of tough-on-China policies, and said the current century “will be defined by the relationship between the United States and China.”

“We wasted 20 years thinking that once China got rich and prosperous, they would become like us. Then we woke up into a world where they don't want to become like us, they want to replace us. We made one mistake. We allowed American manufacturing to leave this country and go to China,” said Rubio.

Rubio ended his answer by saying there was a need for more military investment in the Indo Pacific region.

Election day is Nov. 8.

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