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Story highlights

The legislation comes in response to frustration on both sides of the aisle that President Barack Obama's policies toward North Korea have failed to stop its outlaw behavior

Senators compared the new sanctions to congressional-imposed sanctions against Iran that brought the Mideast nation to the negotiating table

(CNN) —  

The Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved new sanctions against North Korea to punish the rogue nation for carrying out recent nuclear and ballistic missile tests as well as for other malicious activities, including cybersecurity attacks and human rights abuses.

The legislation comes in response to frustration on both sides of the aisle that President Barack Obama’s policies toward North Korea have failed to stop its outlaw behavior.

The bill passed 96-0.

GOP presidential candidates Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas came off the campaign trail to cast their votes on the important national security issue, while Democratic 2016 hopeful Bernie Sanders of Vermont did not.

“The national security threat from North Korea is serious and growing and we need strong national leadership to keep this country safe. Under President Obama, our enemies continue to get stronger,” Cruz said as he entered the Capitol to vote.

“We know all too well that the past two decades of North Korean policy including both Republican and Democratic administrations have been an abject failure,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, said on the Senate floor. “And while there is no silver bullet solution, it is clear that Congress must play a proactive role in providing more robust policy tools to the executive branch to confront this threat.”

Senators compared the new sanctions to congressional-imposed sanctions against Iran that brought the Mideast nation to the negotiating table over its nuclear weapons program.

The legislation requires the President to investigate sanctionable conduct by North Korea, including proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, human rights abuse, cybersecurity attacks, and other actions. It also mandates sanctions against anyone involved and steps up enforcement of these sanctions.

“While the President sits on the sidelines, the Senate will do its part to make sure the regime and North Korea feel some consequences for its belligerent, illegal actions,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the number two Senate Republican.

“For too many years, the standard response of Republican and Democratic administrations alike – whenever North Korea stages a provocation – has been to dismiss the seriousness of the threat,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, an author of the bill. “We tend to see it as a strange regime seemingly disconnected from geopolitical reality – something of a parallel universe that doesn’t function in the same way as the rest of the international community, a strange regime run by crazy leaders and certain to collapse any day – that there’s no need to worry it won’t and it can’t survive.”

“Well, four nuclear tests, three Kims, two violations of United Nations Security Council Resolutions and one attempt by North Korea to transfer nuclear technology to Syria later – it is clearly time for the United States to start taking the North Korea challenge seriously,” Menendez added.

The legislation now goes to the House, which recently passed a similar measure. The language will have to be reconciled or the House will have to approve the Senate measure before sending it to the President.