Members of Congress angry, disappointed in model witness


WASHINGTON - Soon after Rafael Palmeiro collected his 3,000th hit, Rep. Jose Serrano quietly approached his congressional colleagues about drafting a resolution honoring the Orioles star's achievement.

Now the resolution is less likely than a triple play.

"I could always do it, but who would want it on the House floor?" Serrano, a New York Democrat and ardent baseball fan, said yesterday after learning Palmeiro violated the sport's steroids policy. "You're going to honor someone who is suspended?"

If members of Congress have any dealings with Palmeiro now, it may be to ask him whether he was deceiving them when he pointedly told a House committee in March that he never used steroids, then joined an advisory panel whose stated goal is "to address the growing problem of steroid abuse by youth."

Like other House members, Serrano reacted to yesterday's news with disbelief, sadness and anger. Serrano said, "I am tempted to believe" Palmeiro's explanation that a banned substance entered his body unintentionally, but that he didn't know the truth.

Said Serrano: "I wonder how Congress will react to the fact that I guess technically he lied to Congress. There might be questions."

Palmeiro said yesterday that he was telling the truth in March when, seated next to retired slugger Mark McGwire, he testified under oath to the House Government Reform Committee that "I have never used steroids. Period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that."

It was not known when Palmeiro's steroid test was conducted or whether he ingested the drug before testifying.

If members of Congress were feeling burned yesterday, that's because many on the panel considered the Oriole a model witness, albeit a somewhat reluctant one.

"Mr. Palmeiro gave one of the most compelling testimonies during the Government Reform Committee's hearing, and these new revelations are an extreme disappointment," said Christopher Shays of Connecticut, the committee's second-ranking Republican.

Said Serrano: "He [Palmeiro] came across as the one everyone wanted to root for."

Wearing a pinstriped suit, Palmeiro told the panel that his family fled communist Cuba and embraced "the American dream."

As a result of the hearing, Palmeiro agreed to join the Zero Tolerance Roundtable, an advisory group comprising steroid experts and representatives from various sports.

While Palmeiro was praised after the hearing, McGwire was criticized for his repeated refusal to address questions about past behavior.

Yesterday, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, suggested Palmeiro should have learned from McGwire's example.

Not only has Palmeiro violated the steroid-use policy, he "also has failed to take full responsibility for his errors by not acknowledging how steroids were found in his body," Cummings said.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a Virginia Republican and chairman of the Government Reform Committee, was out of the country yesterday, and Congress is on recess until after Labor Day.

Davis had considered Palmeiro "a key ally," spokesman Robert White said yesterday. Asked whether Palmeiro was being dismissed from the advisory roundtable, White replied: 'We'll deal with that later."

Cummings said Palmeiro's case could give Congress momentum to pass pending legislation aimed at forcing big league baseball, football, basketball and hockey players to submit to the same rigorous anti-steroid regimen as Olympic athletes.

Palmeiro's congressional testimony

Testimony of Rafael Palmeiro before the Committee on Government Reform, United States House of Representatives, March 17, 2005:

Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee. My name is Rafael Palmeiro and I am a professional baseball player. I'll be brief in my remarks today. Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids. Period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never. The reference to me in Mr. Canseco's book is absolutely false.

I am against the use of steroids. I don't think athletes should use steroids and I don't think our kids should use them. That point of view is one, unfortunately, that is not shared by our former colleague, Jose Canseco. Mr. Canseco is an unashamed advocate for increased steroid use by all athletes.

My parents and I came to the United States after fleeing the communist tyranny that still reigns over my homeland of Cuba. We came seeking freedom, knowing that through hard work, discipline, and dedication, my family and I could build a bright future in America.

Since arriving to this great country, I have tried to live every day of my life in a manner that I hope has typified the very embodiment of the American Dream. I have gotten to play for three great organizations - the Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, and Baltimore Orioles - and I have been blessed to do well in a profession I love. That blessing has allowed me to work on projects and with charities in the communities where I live and play. As much as I have appreciated the accolades that have come with a successful career, I am just as honored to have worked with great organizations like the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Shoes for Orphans Souls, and the Lena Pope Home of Fort Worth.

The League and the Players Association recently agreed on a steroid policy that I hope will be the first step to eradicating these substances from baseball. Congress should work with the League and the Players Association to make sure that the new policy now being put in place achieves the goal of stamping steroids out of the sport. To the degree an individual player can be helpful, perhaps as an advocate to young people about the dangers of steroids, I hope you will call on us. I, for one, am ready to heed that call.

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