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Rubio misses spending bill vote, most other White House hopefuls vote no

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio stayed out on the campaign trail on Friday, missing a key vote in the U.S. Congress to avert a government shutdown in which most of the other lawmakers seeking the White House voted no.

Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio greets audience members during a campaign stop in Manchester, New Hampshire, December 16, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Rubio, a U.S. senator, was criticized this year by rivals such as fellow Floridian Jeb Bush, for missing votes in Congress. On Friday, he was absent from the vote on a massive spending and tax cut bill that the Senate passed by a vote of 65-33.

Explaining his absence from the Senate, Rubio said the spending and tax bill was a “massive, grotesque piece of legislation” and that not voting for it was in essence a vote against it.

“When there are important votes, especially those where I can be a decisive voice, I’m going to be there,” he told CBS News’ Face the Nation host John Dickerson in Dubuque, Iowa.

“That’s why I’m out campaigning, I want these votes to start to matter again,” Rubio said.

Most of the U.S. senators who are running for the White House in the November 2016 election voted against the spending bill, including Republicans Ted Cruz and Rand Paul and Democrat Bernie Sanders. Republican Lindsey Graham voted in favor of it.

The legislation locked in billions of dollars of tax breaks and scrapped a 40-year-old ban on the export of U.S. oil. The “no” votes from conservative Republicans were not a surprise, as the legislation blew through previous spending restrictions. Cruz told a conservative radio host on Thursday his vote would be “hell no.”

Sanders, who calls himself a Democratic socialist and who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, said he opposed the bill because it” gives more tax breaks to billionaires.”

Rubio said earlier on Friday that the spending bill showed “what a broken Washington looks like under President (Barack) Obama.” On Thursday he told Fox News that conservatives could slow-walk the bill to get changes they wanted. But that did not happen and the bill was approved quickly on Friday.

Rubio, who has been a senator since 2011, took considerable heat earlier in the campaign for missing votes. Bush, a former Florida governor, said the spate of absences showed Rubio had “given up” on trying to solve partisan gridlock in Washington.

Rubio dismissed the criticism as evidence of media bias, saying Democratic lawmakers who sought higher office had not been scrutinized for missing votes.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Emily Stephenson; Editing by Frances Kerry