The chance to vote for a procedural measure on a bill that would enact more stringent restrictions on Syrian and Iraqi refugees trying to enter the country drew all all three Republicans seeking their party’s nomination for the presidency to Washington 12 days before the Iowa caucuses. Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida were, as Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. remarked, "going to actually be in the Senate to vote. It's a big day here."
Cruz is the anti-establishment base’s alternative to the candidacy of New York City billionaire Donald Trump, and Rubio has become a potential fallback option for a party establishment unready for the other two.
Cruz canceled two events in New Hampshire to be in Washington on Wednesday. The move came a week after he faced criticism for missing a vote on a measure sponsored by Paul to "audit the fed," one of only two Republicans to do so.
Cruz walked into the chamber late with Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee, on to a main floor where he would be exposed to a hoard of photographers and reporters. Cruz entered the chamber long enough to cast his vote, and then quickly exited.
After the two left the chamber, a reporter shouted to Cruz, "What do you make of Sarah Palin endorsing Donald Trump?" Cruz smiled as flash bulbs went off and shook his head as the elevator door closed.
Rubio’s arrival in Washington for the vote was noteworthy, in part given how many other votes he's missed in the Senate while running for president. While he made it back for the vote on Paul's bill last week, Rubio had missed several votes and committee hearings since he launched his presidential bid — absences that have become a constant line of attack from both Republican and Democratic opponents.
Rubio appeared back at home on the Senate floor, laughing with a handful of senators, including National Republican Senate Committee Chairman Roger Wicker of Mississippi, as the vote went on. He spoke for several minutes with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as well, and was also spotted greeting a few Democrats, including Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Chris Coons of Delaware.
Rubio also mingled with Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican who was the first in the body to endorse Rubio. Like the Florida senator, Gardner was fresh off the campaign trail from Iowa.
The only Republican senator to miss the vote was South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, who dropped his own campaign at the end of last year. Instead of being in Washington, Graham was on the campaign trail with presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Unlike Rubio, Paul, who is a candidate for re-election in 2016, has protected himself against a similar line of attack by showing up to most votes. A Paul aide told Roll Call earlier this week he has made it to 94 percent of his votes — running for president, but making sure to pay attention to voters back home, too.
On Wednesday, Paul slipped into the Capitol up a senators-only staircase, mostly avoiding reporters who typically gather outside the Senate chamber. Paul did pause for a moment, greeting Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who ran unsuccessfully for president in 1996 and 2000.
The only senator running for president who did not show up for Wednesday's vote was Sen. Bernard Sanders, the independent from Vermont who is challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.