Florida Sen. Marco Rubio battled to defend his seat from Rep. Patrick Murphy on Monday night, in what was the pair’s first and only debate ahead of Florida’s vote for U.S. Senate.
Rubio and Murphy were questioned by a panel composed of representatives from WFTV, Politico Florida and ABC News on the University of Central Florida stage.
Initial questions surrounded the country’s contentious presidential election – proven by historic unfavorable ratings of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump – and whether either Rubio or Murphy is able to stand alongside their party's nominee.
Rubio acknowledged his recent struggles with Trump’s controversial statements but explained he could not support a candidate who has broken the law – namely, Clinton. He went on to say, the choice for president is between two deeply flawed candidates.
“I don’t trust either one of them,” Rubio said. “The job of a U.S. senator is not to blindly trust the president because they happen to be from your own party.
“The job of the U.S. senator, in our republic, is to represent their state and to fight and uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. I am prepared to do that no matter who is elected to the presidency.”
Looking to dispel any connection between criticism of Trump and himself, Rubio said he is the only one on stage willing to stand up to his party’s candidate.
Murphy also recognized his candidate’s missteps – saying Clinton has repeatedly apologized for her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state – but did so in a manor to suggest criticisms of Clinton are old news.
“I believe that Secretary Clinton is as qualified as anybody we’ve ever had to fill this role,” Murphy said. “You compare that to Donald Trump – who’s as unfit and unqualified as anybody we’ve ever had for this office.”
While the moderators attempted to move the debate’s focus away from the nominees for president, Murphy did his very best to keep Trump at the center of the conversation.
With the debate being held only miles away from the Pulse Nightclub, where 49 people were murdered by a man who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, Rubio and Murphy were pressed on what measures they would take to make sure such a massacre wouldn’t happen in the future.
Murphy has called for gun buyers to be cross-referenced with members of the terrorist watch list, though Omar Mateen was not on such a list.
“We must close the terrorist loophole; we must expand background checks to ensure that these weapons aren’t getting in the wrong hands,” Murphy said. “These are things that are supported by the vast majority of Americans; the vast majority of gun owners.”
Rubio aimed to spin the focus on Pulse away from gun control, specifically, and more to Mateen’s pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State. Rubio defended his legislation allowing the FBI to investigate any gun purchase by someone currently, or previously, on a terror watch list.
The conversation then turned to immigration, with the Pulse shooting occurring on “Latino Night” at the club, and many undocumented immigrants fearing deportation.
Rubio, a decedent of immigrants, said comprehensive immigrations reform will not work but advocated for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who are not criminals and have long resided in the United States. He also stated children who were brought to the United States without their choosing should not be subject to deportation.
The mention of comprehensive immigration reform teed up Murphy to bring up Rubio’s involvement in the “Gang of Eight” bill of 2013, which attempted a comprehensive approach to immigration reform in the Senate.
“You used to be the champion of comprehensive immigration reform. Then what happened? You ran for president,” Murphy said.
Murphy once again tied Rubio to Trump, who had previously referred to Mexican immigrants as criminals during the presidential primary process. Rubio responded by citing Murphy’s support of a Homeland Security bill which was thought to cause the mass deportation of illegal immigrants staying in the United States under protections by the DREAM Act.
With rising costs of premiums, and loss of once-promised personal plans, Rubio and Murphy were asked about how to handle the Affordable Care Act.
Murphy said Obamacare was a good start but needs reforms, like any piece of legislation in Washington. He said he has worked in the House of Representatives to achieve those reforms, while Rubio has fought tirelessly to undermine and repeal Obamacare.
Rubio, however, said Obamacare is contributing to the national debt and crumbling.
“To say Obamacare has some problems would be the equivalent of saying the Titanic has some problem,” Rubio responded.
Rubio said previous attempts to improve health care coverage for Floridians while serving in the State House were blocked by then-governor Charlie Crist. Rubio says his plan is to allow citizens to pursue insurance policies across state lines.
Rubio has long been criticized for missing votes in the Senate during his presidential campaign. He said, while he didn’t like missing votes, he needed to because of the direction the country was/is heading in.
It was at this moment when Rubio promised to serve a full six-year term if re-elected to the Senate. Rubio said his record and accomplishments show his commitment to Floridians and that Murphy has no tangible accomplishments from his four-year term in the House.
Murphy citied his successes in the House to include working with a Republican-controlled House, and approving funding for the intelligence community and cleanup efforts in the Everglades.
Defending against accusations he mislead voters with a false resume, Murphy negated claims that he is a CPA (though not certified in Florida) and a small business owner.
Rubio continued pushing Murphy on his resume, saying he has never practiced as a CPA in Florida, had a small business only in operation for five months and never earned dual degrees from the University of Miami.