The real power center of the Senate: The gym

“The sweat-filled room has now replaced the smoke-filled room,” quipped Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., one of the deans of the early-morning gym crew. Barrasso is usually the first to arrive in the morning and opens up shop. He and Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., who typically arrives minutes later, control the television. The news program they watch is the result of a compromise — MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” is hosted by a conservative, but the channel is left-leaning.

Though certainly there has been some early-morning wheeling and dealing on elliptical machines, many of the 13 members — all men — approached by CQ Roll Call as they went about their daily routines said the most important part of the experience was not negotiating but getting to know more about their colleagues’ personal lives.

That is one of the catches to this club, like so many others in Washington. There is a separate locker room and smaller workout space for the Senate’s 20 female senators. Although few members of the early-morning crew said they had seen women on their side of the gym, or ever seen the women’s workout room, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said she has used the primarily male workout room.

“I’d be fine with it being all opened up, and I think actually that would be a good thing [because] it’s not a real big gym, to make it larger,” Ayotte said Wednesday afternoon. “But I do go over to the other side to use the equipment, and it’s no big deal.”

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