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Ensign Leadership Position In Question

Sen. John Ensign's (R-Nev.) hold on his Senate leadership position is far from certain, with Republican leaders still trying to gauge the fallout of his stunning Tuesday admission of having an extramarital affair with a campaign staffer.

With details of his affair still unfolding, including the circumstances of the former staffer's departure from his campaign, Republicans are uncertain whether to proceed with any sanctions on a senator once viewed as a rising star in the GOP.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of GOP leadership, said, "I'm not sure yet" when asked whether Ensign could remain as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee.

Ensign is fourth-highest ranking senator in Republican leadership. It's unclear whether he can continue to hang onto the position with the scandal swirling around him, according to many Senate aides.

Ensign will certainly have to start by making phone calls to top senators to shore up his support, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) has yet to take a public position on the matter.

Asked Wednesday whether Ensign should remain as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, McConnell told POLITICO: "I'll have something to say about that later today."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he saw no reason to remove Ensign from his leadership spot, but when asked whether Ensign could still be an effective spokesman for the party at this point, Graham said, "No."

"This is a personal situation and I hope he gets it resolved."

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Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), an adviser to GOP leadership, said she hasn't "processed all this."

"I'd like an opportunity to talk to him," she said and sighed. Asked if it was a distraction, Murkowski nodded.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said his "thoughts and prayers" are with Ensign and his wife Darlene and "the last thing I've considered is any action the [Senate Republican] conference ought to take."

Ensign flew back to Las Vegas Tuesday to announce that he had an affair with an ex-campaign staffer who was married to one of his senior legislative aides. Current and former Ensign aides identified the woman as Cynthia Hampton, who is married to Doug Hampton, an aide in Ensign's Senate office.

The affair took place between December 2007 and August 2008, but the couple left Ensign's staff in spring 2008. It remains unclear the circumstances of her departure, and Doug Hampton reportedly asked Ensign for a large sum of money, forcing the senator to go public Tuesday.

Ensign, who was exploring a 2012 presidential run, said Tuesday he was "committed" to his Senate work — but didn"t say whether he would try to stay in his leadership position.


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