If Congress is a boys' club, the House Members-only gym might be its inner sanctum.
It's where you'll find lawmakers, usually so confident and guarded, at their most vulnerable: red-faced, short of breath and often naked.
The gym got a star turn this week when pictures of naughty texter Rep. Anthony Weiner surfaced.
In one of the photos, the New York Democrat is shirtless, a towel wrapped around his waist, against the backdrop of what appear to be the industrial-gray lockers of the Members' workout lair.
But it wasn't the first time the gym has seen titillating action.
Rep. Eric Massa, the New York Democrat who resigned after admitting to tickle-fights with male staffers, once described an incident that took place there in which then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel poked him in the chest and harangued him for not supporting the president's budget.
Massa was showering, he said, and Emanuel, now the mayor of Chicago, didn't even have "a towel wrapped around his tush."
Throughout the years, the gym has been the setting of unwelcome displays of flesh, talcum powder gone awry and massages administered by a hungover Hungarian masseur.
But for all that drama, and for all the mystery surrounding the gym (only Members can enter, and an Architect of the Capitol spokeswoman wouldn't say a word about it, citing "security purposes"), some who use it say there's usually just not much inside to get worked up about.
Little in the way of deal-making happens, some say, and mostly it's a scene that could play out in bland hotel gyms anywhere: a bunch of middle-aged guys on treadmills or stationary bikes, reading newspapers and exchanging pleasantries.
Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) describes the facility, located in the Rayburn House Office Building, as a low-key setting where Members typically keep to themselves.
"I'm not seeing any hijinks," he says. "Maybe that was the case back in the '70s or '80s when things were looser. Now, it's just a quiet place where guys go to work out and clear their heads."
Walsh belongs to the "couch caucus," a not-so-elite club of Members who sleep in their offices, a group that some estimate to be in the dozens. Those lawmakers typically shower and change daily in the House gym, and many throw in a workout for good measure, often just to kill time in the ghostly office buildings.
There's a group of lawmakers that meets in the mornings for P90X workouts, a grueling fitness routine whose founder, Tony Horton, has become a celebrity and frequent visitor to Capitol Hill, where he'll sometimes lead sweaty groups of lawmakers in the House gym. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) once boasted to Roll Call that the sessions had helped him keep his body-fat percentage to an impressively taut 6 percent to 8 percent.
And a group of mostly freshmen have a regular weekly basketball game in the evenings.
Dues for the Member gym are $240 a year, and the facility is overseen by a "gym committee" headed by Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.). Women have their own gym, a facility that was spruced up in 2008 after calls for parity with the guys' fitness center. The women's gym is smaller and geared more toward cardio equipment than heavy-duty weights.
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