Washington Sketch: Senate Republicans Not Exactly Abuzz About Ensign

The senator everybody's talking about (with notable exceptions).
The senator everybody's talking about (with notable exceptions). (Isaac Brekken - AP)
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By Dana Milbank
Thursday, June 18, 2009

As newly confessed adulterer John Ensign went to ground in Las Vegas yesterday, his Senate Republican colleagues here in Washington reprised a familiar ritual: averting their gaze.

"It would be intellectually dishonest for me to comment on it," declared Chuck Grassley of Iowa, pausing on his way to lunch with GOP colleagues.

"I'm late," announced David Vitter of Louisiana, brushing past a knot of reporters.

"I'm not going to say anything," vowed Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Senate Republican, pausing briefly beneath a portrait of John C. Calhoun. "Byyye!" he called, waving back at his questioners as he walked into lunch.

The party's 2008 presidential nominee, John McCain, pretended not even to hear the question about Ensign. "Whazzat?" he said sharply, sounding like the duck in the Aflac commercial.

"Senator --"

"Whazzat?" McCain repeated, still walking.

"Senator Ensign --"

"Whazzat?" McCain quacked for a third time before disappearing into the lunch room.

It was, as Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas artfully put it, "a no-comment day." Members of the Senate GOP caucus are becoming quite expert at the procedure, having had practice tamping down previous indiscretions by Vitter (D.C. Madam), Ted Stevens (shiatsu massage lounger) and Larry Craig (Minneapolis airport).

Ensign faces an additional hurdle: His moral politics (he led the push to drum Craig out of the chamber, calling his behavior "embarrassing for the Senate") left him open to charges of hypocrisy.

But even Democratic lawmakers, who have one of their own former members on trial across the Potomac River, charged with stashing bribe money in his freezer, know better than to call attention to the speck in their neighbor's eye. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid only offered good wishes to his fellow Nevadan in "this difficult time."

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