By J. Taylor Rushing - 06/23/09 07:52 PM EDT
Ensign offered a “very contrite, very sincere” apology for the extramarital affair that he acknowledged last week at a Las Vegas news conference, according to multiple GOP senators.
The apology was followed by a round of applause by all Republicans, similar to that which was delivered to Sen. David Vitter (La.) and former Sens. Larry Craig (Idaho) and Ted Stevens (Alaska) after their recent controversies.
A spokesman for the Senate Ethics Committee would not comment Tuesday when asked whether the committee is considering any inquiries into the matter.
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, noting that he knew Ensign’s father, Michael, for many years.
“Everyone knows that Sen. 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 Sen. Ensign today.”
There were no Senate votes Tuesday. Ensign spent the morning alone in his Senate hideaway, making no public appearances, and he left the GOP lunch through a semi-private door to avoid reporters gathered around a more public entrance. He has avoided taking questions from the press since his return on Monday to the Senate, simply 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 conference 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 on Tuesday, simply saying he “spoke at our conference, apologized and indicated that he was going to do his job.”
Doug Hampton, the husband of the woman Ensign had the affair with, said in a letter sent to media that he and others have confronted the senator at his Washington, D.C., home, which he shares with Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).
Hampton said in the letter that Coburn was present during one confrontation.
When approached by The Hill, Coburn would not comment on whether he had prior knowledge of Ensign’s affair. Coburn said “80 percent” of the reporting on Ensign’s affair and admission have been inaccurate, but would not elaborate.