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Lawmakers insist shower run-ins like the one Massa alleges are far from norm

By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 10, 2010; A06

It's no secret that members of Congress broker deals on the treadmill or in the weight room of the House and Senate gyms. But former congressman Eric Massa's accusation that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel once berated him in the gym's shower over his vote against President Obama's budget left Washington watchers wondering how much business politicians conduct while naked.

The answer, lawmakers revealed Tuesday, is not much.

The private gyms are sanctuaries where lawmakers can huff, puff and disrobe knowing that only fellow members will see them.

If Massa's shower tableau did take place -- a scenario the White House denied -- several said it's far from the norm.

"This morning I talked with Lamar Alexander about a hold" on a nomination during his daily workout, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said. But Tester said, "I don't go in the shower. I don't accost people."

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said he often goes to the Senate gym to do a rubber-band exercise for his arms -- the 66-year-old said he has bad rotator cuffs -- but that he most loves sitting in the sauna with his colleagues.

"It's always fun," he said.

Asked whether he has had shower encounters like the one Massa alleged, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) was interrupted by an aide -- "Senator, we definitely have a speaking engagement" -- and whisked away before he could respond.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said she works out in the Senate gym, sometimes talking shop on the elliptical, "but obviously not as often as I should." But McCaskill wouldn't offer details about what happens inside the women's locker room.

"This is wayyyy TMI," she said, laughing. "I'm not going to discuss my showering habits. I'll leave that to Rahm Emanuel and Eric Massa."

Massa, who resigned Monday amid an ethics probe, set off a round of intrigue when he offered a new image of the legendarily bare-knuckled Emanuel in a Sunday night interview with an Upstate New York radio station.

"I am sitting there showering, naked as a jaybird, and here comes Rahm Emanuel, not even with a towel . . . his finger in my chest, yelling at me because I wasn't going to vote for the president's budget," Massa said. "You know how awkward it is to have a political argument with a naked man?"

But some have alleged that Massa's story is embellished or altogether fabricated.

A White House aide who was not authorized to speak on the record said Emanuel asserted that the shower encounter "did not happen."

Regardless, some lawmakers said they were upset that Massa would break the trust established in the members-only gyms.

"It's the only place where you get to see a member in a different light," said Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.). "Not physically in what Massa was talking about, another member nude, but in a sense that their [inhibitions] are gone in addition to their clothes. There's a sense of the basic fellow person serving in this business to another fellow person serving in this business."

Added Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.): "It's protocol never to talk about what you talk about there."

Still, it would come as no surprise that political gym rats would be like any others.

"Way too many middle-aged, overweight men walk around that locker room without any clothes on," said Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Tuesday. "I wish they would just drape themselves with towels."

"I did walk into a steam room once for three seconds, looked through the fog and said," Scarborough recounted, snapping his fingers for effect, " 'I'll see you guys later.' "

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