Sen. Ensign Resigns Amid Ethics Probe

 

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.

Sen. John Ensign is being investigated for his handling of an affair with a former political aide. File photo by Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., is resigning from his seat in order to avoid further investigation and action from the Senate Ethics Committee looking into any possible wrongdoing related to his affair with a former senior aide’s wife.

“It is with tremendous sadness that I officially hand over the Senate seat that I have held for eleven years. The turbulence of these last few years is greatly surpassed by the incredible privilege that I feel to have been entrusted to serve the people of Nevada,” Ensign said in a statement.

“While I stand behind my firm belief that I have not violated any law, rule, or standard of conduct of the Senate, and I have fought to prove this publicly, I will not continue to subject my family, my constituents, or the Senate to any further rounds of investigation, depositions, drawn out proceedings, or especially public hearings. For my family and me, this continued personal cost is simply too great,” he added.

U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Vice Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., issued a two-sentence statement that appeared to be the equivalent of “good riddance.”

“The Senate Ethics Committee has worked diligently for 22 months on this matter and will complete its work in a timely fashion. Senator Ensign has made the appropriate decision,” they said.

Ensign said his resignation will become effective May 3. A former senator is not subject to penalty or further investigation from the Senate Ethics Committee.

Politically, Ensign’s resignation can have significant impact on what’s expected to be one of the most high-profile senate races of the cycle. If Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval appoints Rep. Dean Heller to the seat, Heller will get to run for election with some of the trappings of incumbency.

This would no doubt complicate what Democrats see as one of their best pickup opportunities in the country in a year when most of their time is going to be spent playing defense.

With the GOP only four seats away from a majority in the Senate, a complicating factor thrown into one of the Democrats’ most promising pickup opportunities is welcome news at the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

“There will be a very clear choice for Nevadans between an uncompromising extremist like Dean Heller, who wants to end Medicare and cut loans for small businesses to give more tax breaks for the very rich, and Shelley Berkley, a true fighter for Nevada’s economy and middle class. Nevada will remain a top target for Senate Democrats,” said Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, in an attempt to put a good face on the unwelcome news.

If Rep. Heller gets the appointment as expected, he vacates a competitive House seat for which a special election will take place this year, providing a great opportunity to see how the political terrain has shifted, if at all, since 2010 in a major battleground state.

THE PRICE AT THE PUMP

President Obama has clearly got the skyrocketing gas prices around the country on the brain.

During his week of town hall events aimed at selling his plan to rein in the deficits and debt facing the country, President Obama has made sure to mention his concern about rising gas prices whether or not he gets asked about it.

Yesterday in Reno, Nev., the president announced that Attorney General Eric Holder is setting up a task force to look at the role traders and speculators play in rising gas prices.

Friday’s New York Times/CBS News poll suggests the burden of gas prices is having an effect. Thirty-nine percent of Americans polled say the economy is getting worse, and only 26 percent of those surveyed say that the country is headed in the right direction.

Those are two of the most critical numbers watched by President Obama and his advisers as they plot out his path to re-election. Without significantly improving both of those numbers, the president will not be re-elected.

President Obama played political analyst Thursday night at a swanky Hollywood fund-raiser featuring Steven Spielberg and George Clooney, among others.

“My poll numbers go up and down depending on the latest crisis, and right now gas prices are weighing heavily on people,” Mr. Obama, the pundit, said.

Of course, if gas prices go down and his poll numbers don’t go up in conjunction, he’ll have to find an alternate explanation for the dour mood the country finds itself in.

SEA CHANGE FOR PALIN

Sarah Palin used to be the focal point for opposition to President Obama ever since he was elected. Anything she said, tweeted or facebooked became instant news. Would she run for president? The question infuriated her critics and inspired her supporters.

New evidence highlighted by the New York Times’ Nate Silver shows how far her star has fallen, at least in media coverage. Silver used NewsLibrary.com to search newspaper stories, blogs and broadcast media sources that included a candidate’s name in the lead paragraph, as well as other words in the rest of the article, such as “president,” “candidate” and “campaign.”

What he found is that while Palin was the subject of 51 percent of such news sources in November 2010, she now occupies just 11 percent of that space.

In Silver’s chart below, you can see that as coverage of Palin has declined, coverage of Donald Trump’s proto-candidicy has risen dramatically.

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A Gallup poll released Friday shows Palin’s rating as the preferred GOP candidate among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents has fallen 3 percent since September, down from 16 percent to 13 percent this week.

This data doesn’t include Trump, however. When the same group of Republicans was asked by Gallup to rank their preferred 2012 candidate, Palin was fourth with 10 percent; Trump tied Mike Huckabee for first with 16 percent each.

While it’s hard to know precisely why this is happening, the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and Palin’s response to it (she was criticized for using an image of crosshairs over a map of Giffords’ district in past campaign literature and for her video addressing the attack itself) seems to have marked a point where her support started to lag.

A January Gallup poll showed that her favorable/unfavorable rating was 44/47 percent in mid-2010; it dropped to 38/53 in January 2011, after the shooting.

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