Rubio argues likely 2022 Democratic challenger Demings 'has voted for socialist things'
Rubio spotlights Demings has voted with 'the Squad' 94% of time
EXCLUSIVE: As he looks to his 2022 reelection bid, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said he’ll spotlight what he describes as his unprecedented "record of achievement" in the Senate.
And the two-term conservative lawmaker, in an exclusive interview with Fox News, took aim at Rep. Val Demings of Florida – his likely Democratic challenger next year – for voting 94% of the time with "the Squad" and 100% of the time with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
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Demings' run would give the Democrats a nationally known and high-profile candidate in the race against Rubio, who was first elected to the Senate in the 2010 Tea Party wave and who grabbed national attention during his unsuccessful 2016 GOP presidential nomination run.
Demings, who is Black, spent nearly three decades in law enforcement, rising through the ranks to become the Orlando Police Department's first female police chief. Last year she was seriously considered as then-presidential nominee Joe Biden's running mate. Because of her background, some Democrats say it would be hard for Republicans to pin the "socialist" label on her.
Asked about Demings, Rubio dismissed any description of her as a moderate.
"None of them will admit to being a socialist. She probably won’t. But she certainly has voted for socialist things," Rubio argued.
"How can you vote with ‘the Squad’ 94% of the time and argue that you’re not an honorary member of that group? How can you vote with Nancy Pelosi 100% of the time and argue that you’re not a far-left, liberal extremist? So she’ll have to answer to that, or whoever their candidate is will have to answer to what their voting record is," the senator emphasized as he seemingly pointed to congressional voting record data from the independent, nonprofit news organization ProPublica.
"At the end of the day they can call themselves whatever they want. People see through it for what it is," Rubio emphasized.
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The senator also zeroed in on a comment that Demings made in the days after Black man George Floyd was killed while in custody by a White Minneapolis, Minn., police officer last year.
"Val Demings called the Minneapolis police proposal to defund the police a reasonable proposal," Rubio said.
After multiple members of the Minneapolis City Council said they would "begin the process of ending the Minneapolis Police Department," Demings said in a CBS News interview that she believed "the council is being very thoughtful in terms of looking at all of the services that police provide."
While Demings was criticized by progressives for breaking with Democrats on a 2017 vote in favor of a bill that increased the penalties for deported felons who illegally return to the United States, Rubio noted she "has voted against deporting criminal illegal aliens."
Asked about the divisive issue, Rubio - who's parents came to the U.S. from Cuba in 1956 - said, "We’re a country of immigrants. My parents are immigrants. I support immigration. But my argument is that immigration – and I think this is a commonsense position that most Americans hold – has to be through a system that is orderly."
"I'm for legal immigration, and I'm against illegal immigration," he explained. "We've got a bunch of people in this country who have been here a long time illegally who are not criminals. We should figure out some way to accommodate them into American life, but we can't continue to allow people to come in illegally and most certainly shouldn’t be doing anything to encourage or incentivize people to do it that way."
Rubio offered that "Hispanic voters have the same view on immigration as the majority of the country does. Where there might be a difference is they actually know the issue first hand….I think it’s an important issue to Hispanic voters because they’re personally familiar with it."
The senator split the Hispanic vote in his 2016 reelection. And a stronger than expected support by Hispanics helped then-President Trump and down-ballot Republicans to victories in Florida in last November’s elections.
Rubio detailed that "the Hispanic-American vote in south Florida and throughout Florida is a working class and entrepreneurial vote. … Their primary identity isn’t simply their ethnicity. Their primary identity is that they’re a small business owner, a husband, a father, a mother, a wife, a worker, and their values are associated with that."
And he charged that there’s been "a very strong reaction" by Hispanics in Florida against "a Democratic Party that has gone radically to the left."
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It’s pretty clear Rubio will also run on his record.
"People send you to Washington to get things done, and that’s what we’ve done. And I think we’ve gotten things done at a rate and at a level that frankly I’m not sure has precedent in modern Florida history from the point of view of a senator," he touted.
"These are meaningful things. These aren’t Post Office namings. These are foreign policy measures that got me sanctioned and banned by China, death threats from [Venezuelan leader Nicholas] Maduro to domestic policy on the VA, to domestic policy on PPP."
The senator called last year’s Paycheck Protection Program "one of the most meaningful legislative measures in modern history because it had a real-life impact. It was put together very quickly – bipartisan – it required a lot of work to bring everybody together in the midst of a pandemic."
Rubio emphasized that "obviously people need to know not just that I’ve gotten meaningful things done in a bipartisan way, but we’re going to compare that to whoever is my opponent, which I doubt whoever that is, is going to have anything close to a record of achievement like that."
Democrats don’t see it that way.
Pointing to Rubio’s vote earlier this year – with all of his Senate GOP colleagues – against President Biden’s COVID relief package – Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesperson Amanda Sherman argued that "Floridians have seen that Rubio doesn’t have the spine to take on the tough fights anymore. He voted against Floridians receiving the checks, shots and support for small businesses they needed to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, he went along with a plan to cut 500 billion from Medicare and tried to spike health care costs while slashing coverage."
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Rubio’s reelection was formally endorsed earlier this year by Trump. During the heat of the 2016 Republican president primaries, the two contenders where hurling insults at each other — with Trump deriding Rubio as "little Marco" and a "low-life" and the senator calling Trump a "con artist" and spotlighting his "small hands."
But Rubio went on to become a supporter of the then-president and a believer in Trump's populist politics.
"He’s the most popular and well-known Republican in the country," Rubio told Fox News. "His influence is clear and undeniable."
Rubio highlighted how Trump broadened the party’s base and said he would "absolutely" welcome the former president and Florida resident’s help on the campaign trail in 2022.
But he added "I’ve got my own views, and sometimes they’re not identical to Donald Trump’s, and when that’s been the case, I’ve been pretty clear about it with him and everybody else, and he’s been fine with that."
The 50-year old senator isn’t ruling out another White House run down the road, but it doesn’t seem to be top of mind.
"Sure, it could be. It depends," he said.
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But he emphasized that "I’ve got things I want to finish working on in the Senate, and that’s right before me now and that’s what I’m going to focus on."
And Rubio said that with age comes patience, noting that "I really just focus on what’s before me. One day, one week, one month at a time."
Fox News' Andrew Murray contributed to this report