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 IsaksonJohnny IsaksonGeorgia special election runoff: live coverage House approves VA bill, sending it to Trump Senate backs bill making it easier to fire VA employees MORE (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 HatchOrrin HatchLive coverage: Senate GOP unveils its ObamaCare repeal bill Grassley doesn't see how Judiciary 'can avoid' obstruction probe Ryan calls for tax reform to be permanent MORE (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 VitterDavid VitterOvernight Energy: Trump set to propose sharp cuts to EPA, energy spending Former La. official tapped as lead offshore drilling regulator Former senator who crafted chemicals law to lobby for chemicals industry MORE (La.) and former Sens. Larry Craig (Idaho) and Ted Stevens (Alaska) after their controversies.

A show of support also came from Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidDems see surge of new candidates Dems to grind Senate to a halt over ObamaCare repeal fight GOP fires opening attack on Dem reportedly running for Heller's Senate seat MORE (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 ThuneJohn ThuneFour Senate conservatives say they oppose ObamaCare repeal bill Live coverage: Senate GOP unveils its ObamaCare repeal bill Self-driving cars are setting the stage for regulatory battle between feds and the states MORE (R-S.D.). Thune will be replaced as vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference by Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiOvernight Healthcare: Latest on Senate healthcare bill | Four conservatives say they'll oppose | Obama slams bill | Health groups offer scathing criticism The Hill's Whip List: Senate ObamaCare repeal bill The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (Alaska).

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Healthcare: Latest on Senate healthcare bill | Four conservatives say they'll oppose | Obama slams bill | Health groups offer scathing criticism Sanders: I hope McConnell listened to protesters outside his office 43 arrested in ObamaCare repeal protests at Capitol MORE (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.