Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida who is also a contender for president, was the only member of the U.S. Senate not to participate in a Tuesday vote reaffirming a U.S. prohibition on torture.
Rubio’s office said the senator would have voted no on the amendment, which passed overwhelmingly. The other three senators running for the GOP nomination split their votes on the amendment.
The Senate easily passed the bipartisan measure, 78-21. It is meant to prevent future presidents from using tactics employed during the 2000s.
The measure was sponsored by Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and a former prisoner of war during Vietnam, along with California Democrat Dianne Feinstein and others. It was offered as an amendment to an existing defense authorization bill.
The amendment is designed to codify limitations imposed by President Barack Obama early in his first term and prohibit what were known as “enhanced interrogation techniques” — commonly considered torture — used during the administration of President George W. Bush.
“We must continue to insist that the methods we employ in this fight for peace and freedom must always – always – be as right and honorable as the goals and ideals that we fight for,” McCain said in pushing the amendment. “I believe past interrogation policies compromised our values, stained our national honor and did little practical good. I don’t believe we should have employed such practices in the past, and we should never permit them in the future.”
He said the amendment provides greater assurances that “never again will the United States follow that dark path” of sacrificing the nation’s values for short-term needs. He added: “Our enemies act without conscience. We must not.”
The amendment specifically limits U.S. intelligence gatherers to the use of interrogation techniques permitted by the U.S. Army Field Manual.
Among the senators running for president on the Republican side, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky voted for the amendment, while Lindsey Graham of South Carolina voted no.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent running for the Democratic nomination for president, voted for the amendment.
Rubio’s office said the senator missed the vote because he was campaigning in Florida.
As for the amendment, Rubio said in a statement: “I would have voted no on this amendment. I do not support telegraphing to the enemy what interrogation techniques we will or won't use.” He added that he doesn’t want to deny “future commanders in chief and intelligence officials important tools for protecting the American people and the U.S. homeland.”
Florida’s other senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, voted for the amendment.
Rubio’s voting absences have set him apart from his colleagues, and he has one of the highest voting-absentee records in the Senate, something his office has explained as a byproduct of having a family with young children still back in his home state. He has also missed votes for political trips – a common problem for senators who have run for president in previous cycles.
Numbers from GovTrack.us, a Web site designed to help the public monitor Congress, show that Rubio has missed more than 20 percent of votes this year.