By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 14, 2007
There was swift political reaction yesterday to the report issued by former Senate majority leader George J. Mitchell's commission that documents rampant performance-enhancing drug use among Major League Baseball players.
Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), two lawmakers at the forefront of the drug issue, asked Mitchell, Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig and players' union chief Donald Fehr to appear at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee next Tuesday.
At a news conference in New York, Selig said he has a scheduling conflict and the date is being reconsidered.
"This is a sad day for Major League Baseball but a good day for integrity in sports," Waxman and Davis said in a joint statement. "It's an important step towards the goal of eliminating the use of performance enhancing substances."
The statement called the Mitchell report "sobering" and said the committee will seek advice at the hearing on whether additional measures are needed.
"It shows the use of steroids and human growth hormone has been and is a significant problem in Major League Baseball," Waxman and Davis said. "And it shows that everyone involved in Major League Baseball bears some responsibility for this scandal."
Waxman is the committee's chairman and Davis is the ranking Republican. The committee held a dramatic hearing in March 2005, at which then-players Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa, and former player Mark McGwire testified.
White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said President Bush, who was a co-owner and managing general partner of the Texas Rangers from 1989 to 1994, "looks forward to seeing the report by Senator Mitchell. He has not seen it yet, and the president hopes that this report marks the beginning of the end of steroid abuse."
"This report is an acknowledgment that they have a problem and that they're trying to resolve it," Perino said.
Perino pointed to an interview by President Bush with ESPN earlier this year in which he did not recall steroids being used or being discussed at the time he was co-owner of the Rangers.
"The president said he thought long and hard about it, he just does not recall ever hearing it or seeing it," Perino said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who rooted for San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds during his pursuit of his record-breaking 756th home run this past season, told reporters that the indications were that the use of steroids was "far more pervasive" than anyone had previously acknowledged and that steroid use in youth athletics is "an issue that must be addressed."
"It seems quite stunning," she said.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has also been active on steroid and sports issues, called on the players' union to act more aggressively to police the sport.
"It is time for the players' union to step forward to help save the reputation of the game," said McCain, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president. "There has to be cooperation from the players' union rather than what I view is the obfuscation and delay on this issue."
McCain said the report does not represent closure on the steroid problem.
"With ties to drug use found in all 30 major league baseball teams, it is abundantly clear that this problem is universal," he said.
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said the government needs to step in to ensure the integrity of the sport.
"Illegal drug use is a stain on all levels of athletics and, as we have seen recently, it taints the accomplishments of our elite athletes," Stevens said in a statement. "Congress should exercise much needed oversight to help address this serious problem, and restore the integrity of the game for the fans."
Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) said Selig bears more responsibility than others, and he called for the commissioner to resign.
"Under the limelight of scrutiny of the Mitchell report, does Selig have the credibility to clean up baseball? I don't believe he has that credibility," said Stearns, who held hearings on steroid use in sports in 2005 as then-chairman of the House Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and Trade.