Florida Senator Marco Rubio is drawing sharp criticism for missing Friday’s vote on a $1.1 trillion government funding bill after he publicly criticized the bill and threatened to try and slow down its consideration in recent days with one of his presidential primary opponents going so far as to suggest Rubio resign from the Senate.
"It's a trillion dollars in spending and I think earlier this week he talked about having some activity and then wasn't here,” Sen. Rand Paul told Politico. “So yeah I think it's important to show up to your job. I think that really he ought to resign or quit accepting his pay if he's not going to come to work.”
Rubio was one of only two members of the Senate to miss the vote, and was the only member of congress running for president who was not in Washington to vote on the package, which also included over $600 billion in tax cut extensions. Rubio instead spent the day campaigning in the early state of Iowa.
In an interview set to air this Sunday on CBS’ Face the Nation, Rubio defended his absence, declaring that “in essence, not voting for it is a vote against it.” And Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said in a statement to NBC News that Rubio had little time to review the bill, and is in fact running for president to change the process behind those types of bills.
“Votes like Friday's are why Marco is running for president,” Rubio Campaign spokesmen Alex Conant told NBC News in a statement, “Leaders in Washington crafted this trillion dollar spending bill in secret, and unveiled it during the debate on Tuesday night. Marco had barely 48 hours to review over 2,000 pages of spending.”
“Marco has consistently voted against those sorts of bills, but the truth is that it's not going to change until we elect a new president, Conant said, “That's why Marco is meeting voters in Iowa today.”
Rubio continued to criticize the legislative deal at a campaign stop in Iowa on Friday around the same time that the vote was taking place.
“One of the reasons why this recent deal that was cut, this omni-deal at the end of the year was so wrong, was that it didn't deal with” the issue of cities that provide sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, Rubio said in response to a questioner in Dubuque, Iowa.
"I agree with you. It’s frustrating to see that these funds continue to flow to jurisdictions that openly brag about the fact that they do not cooperate, even when it comes to criminal aliens."
His comments came after the senator threatened on Thursday to use procedural means to slow down the bill in an effort to change provisions included in the legislation.
“I know enough to say we’re going to oppose it, and I know enough to say that we should use every procedural aspect that we have to slow it down and perhaps force some changes,” Rubio said on Fox News on Thursday, “We can most certainly slow this process down and force them to go back and make changes to it. There’s no doubt that we can and we should and we will.”
But an effort by Rubio to delay the bill never materialized, as he was not in Washington, DC on Thursday to object when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced an agreement to fast-track consideration of the bill and hold the vote as soon as the House had passed the legislation on Friday.
Typically a bill requires days of procedural hurdles before seeing a final vote on the Senate floor, but if all 100 Senators do not object a vote can be sped up to address deadlines, or simply a desire to leave town for the holidays. A Republican leadership aide says that after emails, meetings and calls throughout the week with Senate offices there were no objections to speeding up the vote.
The campaigns for both Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas were critical of Rubio’s absence but Cruz took a measured approach in responding to Rubio’s missed vote, only noting that he himself made the time to get back to Washington to oppose it.
"I’m going to let Marco defend his own voting record," Cruz said at a campaign event in Virginia on Friday. "I can tell you, I flew back to Washington, DC today to vote against this omnibus.”
That may be because Cruz had used similar reasoning to defend his own missed votes, at one point saying, when he skipped Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s confirmation vote, “absence is the equivalent of a ‘no’ vote.”
But his campaign communications director, Rick Tyler, aimed a more direct attack against Rubio on Twitter:
Criticism of Rubio’s missed Senate votes is nothing new, as the Senator has missed 95 votes since announcing his candidacy in April, more than any other Senate Republican running for the nation’s top office. After an aide was quoted in the Washington Post in October saying Rubio “hates” the Senate, the South Florida Sun Sentinel wrote an editorial titled “Marco Rubio should resign, not rip us off.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) also called on Rubio to resign, saying he had “a lot of chutzpah” for comparing himself to Senators Bob Dole, John McCain, John Kerry and Barack Obama, who all also ran for President and missed a considerable amount of votes during their runs.
"I think he abandoned the Senate, and the state of Florida deserve two senators, not one senator," Reid said of Rubio in October.
But Rubio has repeatedly dismissed criticism of his missed Senate votes, noting that he returns whenever possible to the chamber when his vote could be decisive, and that it’s impossible for lawmakers to hit the campaign trail and the Senate floor for votes at the same time. His aides point out that the candidate has canceled events so Rubio could return to Washington for key votes. He's also missed fewer votes, as percentage of total votes taken, than Arizona Sen. John McCain when he ran for president.
And Rubio’s supporters in Iowa on Friday seemed unfazed by his absence, offering essentially the same defense as the senator for his missed votes. Kathy Stoner, a 59-year-old retired teacher from Mount Vernon, Iowa, said it’s "really difficult for [candidates holding elected office] to do both jobs well.” And she noted that the omnibus vote today wasn’t a close one — but warned him to pay attention in the future.
"It was overwhelmingly going to pass so I don’t think his vote would’ve made much of a difference, had he been there,” she said.
“I just hope he is weighing those things. If there’s a close vote he should be there."