Ensign Is Back But Not Exactly In the Saddle
Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) made a not-so-grand return to Washington this week for his first Senate vote since admitting he had an extramarital affair with a campaign aide.
Even though he bucked his party to protect his home state's interests, Ensign still emerged from hiding a loser, unable to attract enough Republican support to pass a tourism promotion bill he co-authored with Nevada colleague Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Ensign had just one Republican - Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida - supporting his effort. And Reid had his own problem: seven Democratic senators were absent, including the gravely ill Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). So while every Democrat present voted for the bill, Reid and Ensign failed, 53-34, to get the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture and push the tourism measure to a final vote.
Reid blamed Republicans last night. "This is obstructionism at its best, and it follows what the Republicans have admitted they want to do - stop any and all progress," he said.
But the Nevada state Democratic Party blamed Ensign, saying in a statement that the "recent distractions of his personal life are affecting John Ensign's ability to do his job for Nevadans in Washington."
Now that he's back in Washington and working again, Ensign finds himself under a microscope, with many wondering whether he'll be able to survive the stunning admission of his affair with former campaign aide Cynthia Hampton.
The Ensign camp initially suggested to various media outlets that the senator had been blackmailed by Hampton's husband, Doug Hampton, who also worked for Ensign. But now Ensign claims that Mr. Hampton's lawyer has been demanding exorbitant amounts of money from the senator to pay off his client.
Ensign's approval rating has plummeted from 53 percent a month ago to 39 percent over this past weekend, according to a survey conducted by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The number of Nevadans who have an unfavorable view of the senator has doubled.
As the Las Vegas Sun notes, Ensign once said he would resign if he found himself in a situation similar to that of former senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho). Ensign had called on Craig to resign after the Idaho Republican was busted in a men's room sex sting in the Minneapolis airport. "I wouldn't put myself, hopefully, in that kind of a position ... but if I was in a position like that, I think that's what I would do," Ensign was quoted telling the Associated Press at the time.
But Ensign undoubtedly is paying attention to the Review-Journal poll, which shows that a majority of Nevada voters - 62 percent - do not think he should resign over his affair with a campaign staffer.
Mary Ann Akers
June 23, 2009; 7:26 AM ET
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