WASHINGTON -- In his final U.S. Senate speech, Sen. John Ensign said he was sorry.
Declaring that he was blinded by self-importance, the Nevada Republican apologized to colleagues Monday for behavior that ultimately led him to resign from office.
"Unfortunately, I was blind to how arrogant and self-centered I became," Ensign said in a 13-minute farewell. "This is how dangerous the feelings of power and adulation can be."
Ensign, 53, leaves office today after admitting two years ago to an extramarital affair with former campaign aide Cindy Hampton, his wife's best friend.
The affair spawned multiple investigations, including one by the Senate Ethics Committee that appeared to be coming to a head when Ensign said he was resigning to relieve pressure on his family.
Gov. Brian Sandoval has named Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., to finish Ensign's second term through 2012. Vice President Joe Biden will swear Heller into office Monday , according to Heller's staff.
In his farewell speech, which he delivered to a chamber empty of other senators, Ensign did not speak directly about the extramarital affair but focused instead on his failure to avoid being swept up in his own self-importance.
Ensign has insisted he broke no law nor Senate rule in his extramarital affair and was innocent of subsequent allegations of corruption leveled by Hampton's husband, Doug, who also was a friend and former staff member.
However, he apologized to his colleagues for any stress he caused them.
"I know that many of you were put in difficult situations because of me, and for that I sincerely apologize," he said.
Ensign offered a public apology as well for having harshly judged two former colleagues -- Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Ted Stevens, R-Alaska -- after they were caught up in their own corruption scandals.
Ensign said he spoke to both of them weeks after his public calls for them to resign, saying he was wrong to judge them, and they forgave him.
"When I announced my personal failure two years ago, Larry Craig was one of the first to call. I truly cannot tell you how much that meant to me," he said.
Ensign said he owed "a humble thank you" to many people -- campaign volunteers, staff, donors and his Senate colleagues -- for helping him achieve several "proud successes" for Nevada.
Ensign focused particularly on legislation he advocated to protect Lake Tahoe and the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act, which yielded $3 billion for the state through auctions of public land in the Las Vegas Valley and created an endowment for public schools.
He spoke proudly of authoring, with Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., a bipartisan provision in last year's health care overhaul law that would allow lower insurance premiums to people with healthy lifestyles.
Ensign also thanked Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., for the "true friendship" that developed between them as Senate colleagues working on behalf of Nevada.
After delivering his farewell address, Ensign met with Reid in his Capitol office. Reid issued a brief statement later offering his best wishes to Ensign and his family.
"I have valued John Ensign's partnership over the years as we worked together to improve our state," Reid said. "As John enters the next chapter in his life and departs from the United States Senate, I wish him and his family well as they work through this difficult time."
Ensign ended his speech by thanking God. He said he was encouraged not to mention God at the risk of appearing hypocritical considering his failings.
"I would argue that I have not mentioned him enough," Ensign said. "I'm glad that the Lord not only forgives, but he actually likes it when we give him thanks. So, Lord, thank you for all that you've done in my life. I hope that I can do better in the future."
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau reporter Peter Urban at purban@stephens media.com or 202-783-1760.