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Senate Votes to Block North Korea's Nuclear Ambitions

Senators put aside party politics on Wednesday and overwhelmingly voted to back a bill aimed at derailing North Korea's quest for a nuclear weapon.

The vote was 96 to 0.

Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida returned to Washington for the vote. Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders of Vermont did not.

In statement Wednesday, Sanders said, "While I will be necessarily absent for the expected bipartisan passage of the bill, I strongly support the North Korea sanctions legislation."

But Jesse Ferguson, a spokesman for Sanders' Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, said, "It is unfortunate that yet again, Senator Sanders has shown a lack of interest in vital national security issues, failing to vote on sanctions against the country he said poses the greatest threat to the United States."

Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill, also did not vote.

The bill would mandate sanctions against those involved in North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile development program, require a renewed focus on cyber-attacks committed by North Korea on the United States and target those responsible for human rights abuses that have been committed by the North Korean government. A House Republican leadership aide told NBC News they are currently discussing the bill's future in the House.

"We need to look for every way to deprive Pyongyang of income to build its weapons programs, strengthen its cyber capabilities, and abuse its own people," the bill's chief sponsor, Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado, said on the Senate floor, "We must also send a strong message to China, North Korea's diplomatic protector and largest trading partner, that the United States will use every economic tool at its disposal to stop Pyongyang."

The passage of new sanctions in the Senate comes just days after North Korea launched a long-range rocket, drawing strong international condemnation.

Related: North Korea Launches Long-Range Rocket in Defiance of U.N. Ban

It also comes just over a month after North Korea claimed to test a hydrogen bomb.

On Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee that North Korea has restarted its efforts to produce weapons-grade nuclear material.

"This legislation alone, though, will not cease North Korea's illegal activities," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, said on the Senate floor, "However, it is a beginning of a more comprehensive response to North Korea's increasingly dangerous behavior."

While the Senate has only held 20 votes this year, today's vote marks only the second vote Cruz has cast in 2016, and the third for Rubio.

Both have missed a considerable number of votes while running for president, just as previous presidential candidates have in the past, but Rubio has come under particular criticism for missing 50 percent of the votes held since he announced his run for president in April of last year. Cruz has missed 33 percent of the votes since he announced his candidacy on March 23, 2015, and Sanders has missed 16.5 percent of the Senate votes cast since his announcement on March 26th of last year.

Editor's note: This story originally incorrectly named Joe Donnelly as one of the senators who didn't vote.