GOP elevates Thune, Murkowski after Ensign scandal

Senate Republicans on Thursday unanimously tapped John ThuneJohn Randolph ThunePoll: 8 in 10 people in key states concerned about driverless cars Hillicon Valley: Mnuchin urges antitrust review of tech | Progressives want to break up Facebook | Classified election security briefing set for Tuesday | Tech CEOs face pressure to appear before Congress Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA MORE and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGOP senators introduce Trump's plan to claw back billion in spending Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — VA reform bill heads to Trump's desk Senators introduce bill to measure progress in opioid fight MORE for new leadership positions in the wake of John Ensign's resignation due to a sex scandal.

Thune (S.D.) was tapped as GOP Policy Chairman, the position that Ensign held until his admission last week of an affair with a female staffer. Murkowski (Alaska) was tapped to replace Thune as Senate Republican Conference vice chairman.

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Both senators strove to put the best face on two weeks’ worth of bad press for Republicans, given Ensign’s news and Wednesday’s admission of an affair by South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.

Thune said the party has an ambitious agenda in the Senate to not only oppose Democratic ideas but to propose its own.

“I’m very optimistic and frankly hopeful and bullish about our future as a party and as Republicans in the Senate,” Thune said. “I actually think, ‘Yes, we’re in a bit of a hole, but we’re going to dig our way out of it.’"

Thune and Murkowski appeared at an afternoon press conference with GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGiuliani: White House wants briefing on classified meeting over Russia probe GOP senators introduce Trump's plan to claw back billion in spending The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Trump now says Korea summit could still happen June 12 MORE (Ky.), who dismissed questions from reporters about the impact of the Ensign and Sanford scandals.

“We were sent here to do the people’s business, and that’s what we intend to concentrate on,” McConnell said. “We don’t intend to be distracted by any other issues.”

Thune, who defeated former Democratic Leader Tom Daschle in 2004, is considered a rising star among Senate Republicans. Murkowski — daughter of former Sen. and Gov. Frank Murkowski — has fended off rumors of a Senate challenge from Gov. Sarah Palin (R).

Both Thune and Murkowski are up for reelection next year.

This story was updated at 2:50 p.m.