Facing South Florida: 1-On-1 With US Rep. Val Demings

Facing South Florida host Jim DeFede spoke with Demings about gun control, following the two mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder.

Video Transcript

- Now, from CBS4 News, this is "Facing South Florida" with Jim DeFede.

JIM DEFEDE: Good morning, I'm Jim DeFede, and welcome to "Facing South Florida." Congresswoman Val Demings is a Democrat who represents the Orlando area. She was Orlando's police chief and understands the pain that hits a community following a mass shooting, such as the Pulse Nightclub massacre that left 49 people dead in Orlando in 2016.

I wanted to talk to Demings as we witnessed two more mass shootings in as many weeks. The first in Atlanta where eight people were killed, and the supermarket attack in Boulder where another 10 people were slain. And Demings is considering a run for governor. But we started with the shootings and the issue of gun control.

VAL DEMINGS: I've spent the majority of my life working to solve problems. So it has been painful to be in Congress and watch mass shooting after mass shooting after mass shooting and we do nothing. You know, I certainly thought after Sandy Hook, when 20 elementary school-aged children were gunned down in their classroom, which really should have been one of the safest places for them, I certainly thought something would get done. But nothing.

Watching the Parkland shooting and children who were old enough to advocate for themselves, and boy, have they done that-- still nothing. We've seen shootings in synagogues and churches and movie theaters, and now grocery stores and supermarkets. We have got to do something.

JIM DEFEDE: What do you think is possible? With a president who likes to talk about the art of the possible, what do you think is possible, given the narrow margins that Democrats have?

VAL DEMINGS: As you well know, we passed legislation in the House recently that deals with background checks, advanced background checks. Look, I certainly believe that with a few exceptions that are labeled in the legislation, everyone who purchases a gun should have to go through a background check. Let's get background checks at least out of the way.

We know the president is also committed to banning assault weapons. I think it's shameful that the assault weapons ban expired. It did. This is not about keeping guns out of the hands of people who are good, law-abiding citizens. I haven't seen any good, law-abiding citizens walk in a grocery store and take the lives of 10 people.

JIM DEFEDE: Let me just raise that point, because this is the argument that the Republicans will make. You're right, you know, that good, law-abiding people don't bring guns into supermarkets with the intention of killing people. But perhaps if there was a good, law-abiding citizen with his own gun in that supermarket, perhaps they would have been able to stop the gunman before he killed all those people. How would you respond to that?

VAL DEMINGS: This is exactly how I would respond to that-- one of the good guys, Police Officer Eric Talley, who is well-trained to operate and use his firearm, lost his life on that day. And my heart and thoughts and prayers go out to his family and the families of all of the victims.

I went to a funeral this week of a law enforcement officer from Orlando who responded to a domestic violence call involving a subject who was holding four children hostage. Two of the children were his own. And when the officer tried to enter the residence-- make entry and rescue those children, he was met with gunfire by a person who was a convicted felon who was in possession of a gun, shot the officer in the head, and then later took the lives of four children.

This is not about the good guys and the bad guys. We're no longer the wild, wild West. We need to do everything within our power to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them. Because I doggone as sure don't like seeing law enforcement officers who are charged with keeping our communities safe losing their lives. We owe it to them to not have guns on the street that can penetrate ballistic vests, like AR-15s or AR-15-style weapons. And we owe it to the people who depend on their leaders to keep them safe.

And so I don't want to hear that argument from the Republicans. Tell that to Officer Talley's family. Tell that to Officer Kevin Valencia's family. The prevalence of guns in the wrong hands is the problem in this country, and we need to do everything within our power and get off the sidelines and watching one person, two people, eight people, 10 people, how about 49 people in Orlando, lose their lives. And what do we offer? Thoughts and prayers? Now look, I'm a woman of faith, and I pray every day. But faith without works is dead, and we need to do something about it.

JIM DEFEDE: Let me move to the issue of voting rights-- I know this is another very sensitive issue-- where you're seeing bills sort of cutting back on the ability to vote throughout the country, state after state, here in Florida. A bill was just signed this week in Georgia making it harder for people to vote. There is an effort in Congress to try to move forward a voting bill that would sort of counter many of these measures.

Do you-- are you optimistic that that bill will pass? And what do you think the strategy of the Republican Party is when it comes to these bills going state by state?

VAL DEMINGS: You know, it really should pass. You know, I have to think back and talk for just a moment about my parents again. They're no longer with us, but my mother was a maid and my father was a janitor. My dad used to go to work seven days a week to make ends meet for our family. Did a lot of odd jobs. But Jim, on Election Day, after long, hard days of working, my parents would come home, put on what we used to call their Sunday best, and go to vote. I cannot remember a time my parents did not vote.

Look, we didn't live in the best house. We didn't have a lot of money. We didn't have a famous last name. But I think what they knew was that their vote mattered just as much as the richest man or woman in this country. And so we have an obligation to make sure, I think, that every person, every American, regardless of who they are, has an opportunity to vote. But unfortunately we've seen probably-- I think it's around 30-something states now who are trying to enact over a hundred laws that would not expand voting rights or make voting easier, but restrict access.

You know, when I hear about-- OK, a law that says, let's restrict the hours, it's bad enough. But then a law that says, and let's make it illegal to pass out food or water to people standing in line, I think that's shameful. That is not who we are. And so, you know, and I'll say this too. It amazes me for people who say they love John Lewis, Congressman John Lewis, but yet do not remember, based on their actions, what John Lewis fought for and what he was beat down for on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. And so we-- you know, your question, can we get this through? Well, we're gonna do everything within our power to try to, because it is important.

Look, I have competed for positions. I've run for office. I have lost one and I've won several now-- elections. All I asked for was a fair chance to play the game, to win the race. As opposed to trying to restrict a person's right to vote, present your best case. Present your best platform. And may the best man and woman win.

JIM DEFEDE: Congresswoman, let me just jump in here. You talk about running for offices. I know that you've noted that you've received phone calls from people looking for to have you run statewide. You've made the-- I think the statement you've made, and unless you want to make some news here, is that you'll consider these things in due course. That's a fair statement, correct, that you'll consider this.

But I guess let me try to pin you down a little bit on this. Do you see yourself-- because you know yourself better than most-- do you see yourself better suited to be a United States senator or a governor overseeing a state?

VAL DEMINGS: Well, let me say this. My husband would say he knows me better than I know myself. But that's another-- invite me back for that conversation. As you well know and I think people in this state know, I have dedicated my life to public service. And when I graduated from Florida State University and became a social worker, I did that because I knew that I wanted to help the most vulnerable. And the most vulnerable were our children, our families that were struggling and needed emergency services.

When I joined the Orlando Police Department, I wanted to be that knight in shining armor and help protect innocent people in our community. As you know, I spent 27 years doing that. It was a job that I loved, a place where I feel I grew up, and a place where I felt I did a lot of good work. Yeah, we had some good days and some not so good days. But at the end of the day, I knew that Orlando was a safer community because of the service that I and so many of the wonderful men and women that I served with had given.

I was recruited to run for Congress. I'm not sure I would have made that decision had I not been recruited. But as I was, it was convinced that I could do good on behalf of the American people in federal office. As I take my time and look at running statewide, I want to make sure that I am using the same process. I want to go where I can do the most good.

Now, I've served as an executive before for a lot of years. Is that in the governor's office? I'm trying to figure that out, you know, looking at our state, looking at some of the challenges in our state. Or is it in the US Senate? What I do know as I make this decision, I'm very serious about it. I'm seriously considering it. I'm of course talking to my family. I'm praying about it. I met with my pastor the other day, and I'm talking to a lot of voters and individuals in this state about the future.

JIM DEFEDE: Whether you're in the race or not, the perception is, is that Ron DeSantis is riding very high right now. He's got great approval numbers in the polls. He seems to be coming through the pandemic with people supportive of his approach. Many may criticize it, but many are supportive. I guess the question I just want to ask is, is Ron DeSantis beatable?

VAL DEMINGS: Jim, as someone who grew up in the South poor, Black, and female-- and I can remember growing up the daughter of a maid and a janitor, being told that I wasn't the right color, the right gender, that I probably would not go to college, I'd better figure it out. Because I guess there are people who saw me as maybe doing what my parents did and no farther. But we know that I've been able to do so much more and blessed to be able to do so much more. Things are not always as they appear.

Well, I'm not going to run my race here on your show. I want you to invite me back. Things are not always as they appear, and we're going to wait and see what happens.

JIM DEFEDE: Last question, then I'll let you go. The former president was on TV this week, saying that the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol posed, and his words were, "zero threat" to the Capitol. You know, as someone who saw that for yourself, what's your reaction to what former President Trump said?

VAL DEMINGS: I think the former president's remarks are shameful and disgraceful. I was in the Capitol on that day. On January 6, I was in the House gallery, trapped there for a longer period of time than the people who were on the floor were. And we saw it and experienced it firsthand.

So I know the former president is asking us to not believe our lying eyes and lying ears, but America knows. And you know what? Unfortunately and sadly, the world knows about the insurrection and the insurrectionists that day and what role they played. If that's not violence, then I would love to hear the former president-- well, no I wouldn't, but OK. As a 27-year police officer, you don't have to be one to know that was violence.

JIM DEFEDE: He said the folks who went into the Capitol were hugging and kissing the police officers.

VAL DEMINGS: Well, again, I think that's-- perhaps because of his thought process, that's part of the reason why he no longer occupies the White House.