“He’s accepted responsibility for his actions and apologized to his family and constituents,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement provided to POLITICO. “He offered, and I accepted, his resignation as chairman of the Policy Committee.”
The swift movement by Republicans – with Ensign’s consent – to clear him out of Senate leadership is a sign that the party wants nothing to do with another sex scandal as it tries to slow down the massive Obama agenda and focus on health care, energy and other pressing issues. Ensign has said he will remain focused on his Senate duties representing Nevada, but his days as a rising star in GOP politics are clearly done.
“One thing is for sure, he cannot go any further in Senate leadership, or higher in electoral politics now,” said one Republican Senate aide.
Before this announcement, 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."
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."
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), whose name turned up in an investigation of an alleged prostitution ring in 2007, said Ensign was going through "personal difficulties they're going through so we certainly have all of them in our prayers." He wouldn't comment further.
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.