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August 20, 2014

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Ensign absent from Washington scene

WASHINGTON -- Where is Sen. John Ensign?

After the congressional recess last week came and went without an official Ensign appearance in the state, the Republican's absence -- including on a day in which two Cabinet officials visited -- has people wondering where he has been.

Ensign has dropped his official business to deal with a personal matter, his spokeswoman, Traci Scott, said.

"He has asked everyone for privacy," Scott said.

Scott Bensing, Ensign's chief of staff, said it isn't clear exactly when Ensign will be back on the job, but noted the senator is in touch with staff daily.

Ensign, 43, is in Las Vegas, where he lives with his wife and three young children, aides said. Members of his staff said the senator does not expect to return to Washington this week.

Aides have declined to discuss the matter further, and several Nevada leaders said they didn't know what the issue is.

Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., today said he had not spoken with Ensign, a friend and political ally.

"The demands of the job can take a tremendous toll on a family and you have to understand that members of Congress, like anyone, have to address the highest priority in their life, and that's family," Gibbons said.

Lawmakers take time off to deal with personal matters "fairly frequently but almost always more publicly," George Washington University political scientist Christopher Deering said.

Public officials typically do not have a responsibility to reveal intimate details of their private lives, Deering said, "but they probably do owe their constituents an indication that there is an endgame here in as much as, 'I'll be back on the job soon and I beg your indulgence.' "

Gov. Kenny Guinn, who had planned to meet with Ensign and Senate Assistant Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Monday in Washington. Guinn met with Reid and the governor's aides said they did not know why Ensign had not made official appearances.

Ensign, in his first Senate term, has worked closely with Reid on a number of issues, including Yucca Mountain. Guinn, Reid and Ensign lobbied President Bush in a White House meeting to argue against Yucca Mountain. project.

Reid spokesman Nathan Naylor declined to comment on Ensign's whereabouts, noting the personal friendship between Ensign and Reid.

Ensign's last public splash came immediately after President Bush decided to name Yucca Mountain as the waste repository on Feb. 15. Congress then went on a weeklong President's Day recess.

During that week, Ensign was absent for a tour of the Nevada Test Site with Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge last week. Guinn and Reid were on the tour. Ensign and the state's lawmakers have been pushing a proposal to put a counter-terrorism school at the Nevada Test Site.

The same day, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was at Nellis Air Force Base to kick off the Red Flag training exercise.

Tuesday Ensign missed a hearing on the Enron collapse and a campaign event for Republican House candidate Lynette Boggs McDonald, hosted by Ensign and Gibbons.

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