With less than two weeks to go until Election Day, the two major party candidates for one of Florida’s U.S. Senate seats met on the debate stage for the second – and possibly final – time before November 8th.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, went head-to-head on the campus of Broward College in Davie Wednesday night, where they accused each other of being ineffectual and accomplishing little in Washington.
The Republican incumbent accused Murphy of never sponsoring a bill that passed during his four years in Congress and of doing little to help Florida.
Murphy attacked Rubio's attendance record during his unsuccessful run for the Republican presidential nominee. The Palm Beach-area Democrat pointed out that Rubio missed 40 percent of the Senate's votes during his campaign.
Both attacked the other as being an embellisher. Rubio went after Murphy for saying when he ran for Congress four years ago that his experience as an accountant would be beneficial, but said Murphy didn't have his Florida CPA license. He also disputed Murphy's claim that he got $2 billion for the Everglades and his work to save Medicare Advantage, saying Murphy did nothing and those bills would have passed without him.
"Why does he make things up? You make things up because you don't have anything real to point to," Rubio said.
Murphy shot back, "Senator, if you voted as much as you lied, you might actually be a decent senator." He said fact checkers have backed his claims.
Murphy, who is trailing in the polls, also repeatedly tried to tie Rubio to GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump while Rubio tried to attach Murphy to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama.
When asked about how they would deal with the expected 25 percent increase in premiums under Obama's Affordable Care Act, Murphy said he would work to improve the program while Rubio said he would scrap it.
Murphy called the act "a huge step forward for our country but the emphasis now has to be on getting it right'' and making the plan more affordable. He called for an expansion of Medicaid to cover more low-income Americans and for the government to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs. He accused Rubio of wanting to "take us back to the days where you could get dropped from your health insurance plan if you got sick. You could be denied coverage if you had a pre-existing condition. Where women were being charged more than men because they were women. Where seniors were being charged more for their prescription drugs.''
Rubio said he would allow companies to give their employees tax-free money to buy their own insurance and allow taxpayers who don't receive employer subsidies to get a full tax credit to pay for private coverage. He said the government's only role should be to create a high-risk pool for people with pre-existing conditions who otherwise couldn't get insurance.
Murphy attacked Rubio and the Senate's Republican majority for refusing to vote on Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, who was nominated in March to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
"Merrick Garland, by all accounts, is as qualified as anybody to be on the Supreme Court but there hasn't been a hearing. In fact, Sen. Rubio hasn't even taken the time to meet with Merrick Garland. I guess he is too busy running for president," Murphy said.
Rubio said he would support any nominee who follows the Constitution as its writers envisioned.
"I want a record that they understand what the proper role of the Supreme Court is," Rubio said. "The Supreme Court's role is not to write laws. That is the role of the legislative branch."
Rubio and Murphy both agreed that more needs to be done to improve relations between police officers and the nation's minority communities. While both praised police officers, both called for them to be equipped with body cameras as a way to protect them and the public as encounters would be videotaped.
"It is impossible to ignore that there are many communities in this country, primarily minority communities, who do have a terrible relationship with police departments and a huge level of distrust," Rubio said.
"There is no question there has been a breakdown in trust in many of our communities," Murphy said. "Not only does this tear apart a community, it tears apart an entire family. We have to do more."
The hour-long debate at Broward College near Fort Lauderdale was sponsored by the Florida Press Association and Leadership Florida, a group founded by the state chamber of commerce.
Normalizing relations with Cuba struck a nerve, with Rubio staunchly opposed and Murphy in favor.
"Would we rather see our own cruise ships, Royal Caribbean and Carnival, there in Havana, or would we rather see Russian spy ships there and we can do more to not only protect our country on a national security basis but help the Cuban people out," Murphy said.
"Basically an invasion of cruise ships is going to bring democracy to Cuba? It is not because the Cuban government is a dictatorship," Rubio said. "We have now made over two years concession after concession to the Castro regime, they have taken not even a quarter step towards democracy."
The Miami native Rubio, who announced he was running for re-election after initially saying he would not during his run for the GOP presidential nomination, finds himself in a tougher than expected race against Murphy, who represented a district in Congress including the Treasure Coast and parts of Palm Beach County.
The debate at Broward College was sponsored by the Florida Press Association and Leadership Florida, a group founded by the state chamber of commerce.
It’s unknown if this will be the final debate between the candidates – as both campaigns have battled over potential dates and who wants how many debates.