Sen. John Ensign (Nev.) is expected to address his GOP colleagues at their weekly luncheon today to try to turn the page on the high-profile sex scandal that has derailed his rising political career.
While no one knows exactly what Ensign will say to his fellow Senators, the move is becoming an increasingly familiar one for embattled Republicans. Sen. David Vitter (La.) and former Sens. Ted Stevens (Alaska) and Larry Craig (Idaho), while facing scandals of their own, went before the Conference to discuss their respective situations.
Ensign, 51, admitted June 16 to having an affair with former staffer Cynthia Hampton, who worked on his campaign committee and is married to his former Administrative Assistant and longtime friend Doug Hampton. The affair was said to have taken place from December 2007 to August 2008. Both Hamptons left Ensigns personal and campaign payrolls in April of last year.
Details continue to emerge about the relationship, but accusations have surfaced that Doug Hampton attempted to extort money from Ensign and tried to shop the story of the affair to the media. The scandal has prompted at least one call for an ethics inquiry and sparked concerns from Senate Republicans, who, while continuing to stand by Ensign, are eager to put the negative headlines behind them.
It would definitely be the preference of everyone in the Conference to have everything come to light right away so it can be dealt with rather than have the issue drag out for days or weeks, a senior Republican aide said Monday. However, this aide said, Republican Senators remain by and large supportive of their beleaguered colleague.
I think hes made the appropriate steps. Now its all personal, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said.
Until last week, Ensign had served as the GOP Policy Committee chairman, the No. 4 Conference leadership job. Up for re-election in 2012, he has given no indication that he plans to resign his Senate seat.
Ensign returned to Capitol Hill on Monday.
They all feel a certain degree of sympathy for his situation. ... Its not like the Conference is at a stage where they just dont want the guy there yet, the GOP aide said.
Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) said Ensigns decision to give up his position as Policy Committee chairman shows he is taking some important steps to move forward.
Hes taken a substantial step. He stepped down from his leadership position, which I consider an act of contrition, Alexander said.
No Senator has called on Ensign to resign, and Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) said Republicans have had no discussions about trying to push him out of the Conference. I have heard no discussions. ... Nothing but support, Corker said, adding that he and other Members appreciate the way he was really stand-up about this.
Other Republicans privately said Ensign could have handled the situation better, saying they would have preferred he not announce the affair at a press conference 30 minutes before local news outlets went on the air, engage in a war of words with the Hamptons and return to Washington less than a week after the scandal broke. You could definitely say the handling of the scandal has been more frustrating for GOP Senators than the affair itself, a second Republican aide said.