Ensign apologizes at Senate GOP lunch

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) gave his GOP colleagues a two-minute apology at Tuesday’s caucus lunch for “embarrassing the Senate.”

Ensign offered a “very contrite, very sincere” apology for the extramarital affair that he acknowledged last week at a Las Vegas press conference, according to Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).

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Several Republicans described Ensign’s short speech in similar terms, saying the junior Nevada senator was humble, sincere and earnest.

“Everybody has flaws, we all do,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). “All we can do is show love and kindness. He’s so well-thought-of in the caucus.”

The apology was followed by a round of applause by all Republicans similar to those delivered to Sen. David Vitter (La.) and former Sens. Larry Craig (Idaho) and Ted Stevens (Alaska) after their controversies.

A show of support also came from Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who had a narrow, contentious race against Ensign in his first Senate election in 1998. Reid told reporters he was standing by Ensign, reminding them that he knew Ensign’s father, Michael, for many years.

“Everyone knows that Senator Ensign and I had a very difficult race in 1998. We have become friends since then,” Reid said. “I'm concerned about his family, and I hope he works his way through this… As far as me commenting on any -- any more, I think I've said all I plan to say on Senator Ensign today.”
Ensign left the GOP lunch through a semi-private door, avoiding reporters gathered around a second, more public entrance. He has avoided taking questions from the press since his return on Monday to the Senate, referring reporters to his week-old statement acknowledging the affair, and declining to comment further.

Meanwhile, several Republicans said Thursday’s leadership elections within the caucus are all but settled. Ensign resigned last week as GOP Policy Chairman, and will be replaced by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). Thune will be replaced as vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) spoke only briefly about Ensign Tuesday, simply saying he “spoke at our conference, apologized, and indicated that he was going to do his job.”

This story was updated at 3:27 p.m.