Sen. John Ensign on Monday capped off a 15-year Congressional career with a speech to a nearly empty Senate chamber, striking notes alternately apologetic and defensive.
The Nevadan and former Republican leader, who has resigned effective today, asked for forgiveness from his Senate colleagues, none of whom joined him on the floor to publicly offer it.
But in the same breath, Ensign sought to justify how he came to leave the Senate under a cloud, having fallen from his position as one of his party’s most promising lights to being a scandal-tarred liability.
Ensign’s departure was seen as necessary: He resigned because he faced an ongoing Senate ethics investigation into his affair with the wife of a top aide and a party anxious to field a candidate with less baggage.
Ensign’s speech reflected the mixed emotions of a man leaving a job he wasn’t yet ready to surrender.
The Republican began his remarks by touting his own legislative record, citing his feats in passing public-lands bills and health care reforms. In fact, Ensign said, his accomplishments during his tenure in the House and Senate were simply too many to list.
“I could speak at length about my fight for lower taxes and individual freedoms, protection of constitutional rights, the dignity of our servicemen and women, education reform, and so much more, but there is not enough time,” he said.
After proudly rattling off the highlights of his record, Ensign went on to confess that his years in the Senate had made him arrogant, despite his best efforts.
“I even tried not to become caught up in my own self-importance. Unfortunately, the urge to believe in it was stronger than the power to fight it,” he said.
But even his growing ego, he said, was not a burden he bore alone. Ensign said he did not surround himself with staffers who were willing to check his behavior.
“This is how dangerous the feeling of power and adulation can be,” he said. “My caution to all of my colleagues is to surround yourself with people who will be honest with you about how you really are and what you are becoming.”
Despite its mixed messages, Ensign’s speech elicited sympathy from his soon-to-be-former colleagues.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) said he valued his fellow Nevadan’s “partnership” throughout the years they served together.
“As John enters the next chapter in his life and departs from the United State Senate, I wish him and his family well as they work through this difficult time,” Reid said in a statement. The leader strayed from tradition and did not honor his home-state colleague on the floor.