Senate GOP quiet on Ensign

Senate Republicans are not rushing to defend Sen. John Ensign after revelations his parents paid $96,000 to his mistress and her family.

ADVERTISEMENT
Ensign’s colleagues have taken a markedly different approach to Ensign this week than they did when he acknowledged the affair with former aide Cindy Hampton last month. His GOP colleagues at that time rallied around Ensign and fended off talk of his resignation.

On Thursday, however, not a single Republican approached in the Senate would openly defend him.

GOP Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah said the caucus is concerned about a “trickle” effect in which more information about Ensign will slowly emerge.

“We have learned from all of these that you don’t get all the facts,” Bennett said. “Maybe we do, but maybe there’s still more to it. I would think the reticence of people to comment has more to do with not wanting to make a statement and then discover there’s more facts to come out.”

So far, no prominent Republicans in the Silver State have called on Ensign to resign, leading some GOP strategists in the state to think that he can weather the storm.

“It’s definitely being played up and being used by anybody who’s running against a Republican, but most of the people I talk to are not calling for his resignation,” said political consultant Randi Thompson.

Nevada political watcher Jon Ralston, who interviewed Hampton this week, said calls for Ensign's ouster could mount privately in the Republican Party.

“I have to believe that [Sen.] Tom CoburnTom CoburnRyan calls out GOP in anti-poverty fight The Trail 2016: Words matter Ex-Sen. Coburn: I won’t challenge Trump, I’ll vote for him MORE (R-Okla.) wasn't exactly thrilled to get the  phone calls he got this week. He looks very foolish,” Ralston said of the Oklahoma Republican, Ensign's former housemate. Hampton said Coburn was present during several key moments during the affair.

Thompson also said she senses a reluctance of the GOP establishment to embrace Ensign.

“It stunned people, no doubt, and there is that caution, like ‘What’s next?’ “ she said. “That’s why there’s very little speculation about his future. People don’t want to go out there and say they love this guy and then be embarrassed again.”

Ensign attended votes in the chamber on Thursday after news broke of his family’s payments. But he mostly remained holed up in a hideaway office and took rear staircases back and forth to the floor.

Neither Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidBlack Caucus demands Flint funding from GOP Report: Intelligence officials probing Trump adviser's ties to Russia White House preps agencies for possible shutdown MORE (D-Nev.) — a friend who supported Ensign last month after the initial admission — nor Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTrump slams Obama for ‘shameful’ 9/11 bill veto GOP chairman lobbies against overriding Obama on 9/11 bill Black Caucus demands Flint funding from GOP MORE (R-Ky.) would comment Thursday on Ensign’s political future. Reid simply shook his head when asked, and McConnell ignored the question.

Likewise, when asked to assess Ensign’s political survival, both Bennett and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John CornynJohn CornynSaudi skeptics gain strength in Congress Why Cruz flipped on Trump Schumer rips 'disappointing' 9/11 bill veto, pledges override MORE (Texas) described that as an unanswered question that only Nevada voters can decide.

Ensign last month made a brief apology to his fellow Republicans at a closed-door caucus lunch, acknowledging his conduct had embarrassed the Senate and expressing remorse. He was met with a round of applause, and GOP senators repeatedly described his comments to reporters as genuine and sincere.

Other prominent GOP senators who defended Ensign last month are now taking the same hands-off approach when asked if he should resign. John ThuneJohn ThuneFive takeaways from the new driverless car guidelines Overnight Tech: Pressure builds ahead of TV box vote | Intel Dems warn about Russian election hacks | Spending bill doesn't include internet measure Sen. Thune slams Dems for protecting Internet transition MORE of South Dakota, who took over the position Ensign resigned as chairman of the GOP Policy Committee, declined to defend him to reporters late Thursday, and Orrin HatchOrrin HatchInternet companies dominate tech lobbying Senate panel approves pension rescue for coal miners Overnight Tech: GOP says internet fight isn't over | EU chief defends Apple tax ruling | Feds roll out self-driving car guidelines | Netflix's China worries MORE of Utah, who last month rallied to Ensign’s side by declaring “everybody has flaws,” also wouldn’t repeat that stance.

“I’m not going to talk about Sen. Ensign,” Hatch said. “I’m just not going to get involved.”

Reid Wilson contributed to this story.