Rep. Aaron Schock’s wide travels raise questions
Rep. Aaron Schock lives large and loudly on Instagram, where he broadcasts his exploits from the Greek Isles to the glaciers of Patagonia. He’s shown surfboarding in Hawaii, doing the tango in Buenos Aires and parasailing in the Andes.
The 33-year-old Republican from Peoria has visited at least nine foreign countries since the start of 2014, sometimes on government business and sometimes for pleasure, a Tribune review found. Last year, he took in three national music awards programs, hitting gala performances in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Nashville.
Schock’s penchant for travel has come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks, ever since the Washington Post described his “Downton Abbey” redesign of his congressional office. Last week, Schock repaid $40,000 from his personal checking account for the redecorating work, The Associated Press reported.
The lawmaker still faces allegations that he did not properly account for his trips and did not conform to requirements on the use of private aircraft, potentially threatening the once-steady climb of the first member of Congress to be born in the 1980s.
Katherine Coyle, chair of the Peoria County Republican Party, said in an interview Friday that Schock is being unfairly criticized by reporters who are “confusing personal vacation with public duties.”
“If he takes a vacation and wants to jump off a cliff on vacation, that’s what he should be doing,” said Coyle, a former professor at Bradley University.
Coyle, a candidate for the Peoria City Council, praised the congressman’s work ethic and said “Aaron Schock totally plays in Peoria. He always will.”
Less enthusiastic was Jeff Davis, 52, a patron at the Center Tap, a working-class bar in East Peoria. Davis questioned why Schock was spending time in Argentina.
“Why is he down there? I can’t (afford) a steak dinner on a Friday night after I work all week,” Davis said, echoing a point made by several others at the bar.
Optics aside, the more serious issue for Schock is about how his travel is being paid for. Politico last week said Schock did not report a 2011 trip to Saudi Arabia, paid for by its government, on his annual financial disclosure form.
The media outlet also made note of a June 2011 trip to London, when Schock attended the Royal Ascot races in the Royal Enclosure, dined at Windsor Castle, and had cocktails and dinner with Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, at Buckingham Palace.
Schock missed a day of House votes during the London trip, House records show.
Schock’s look-at-me posts on Instagram have captured widespread attention, including a gibe last week from Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show.”
In January, Schock posed with Buddhist monks standing before a glimmering, world-famous pagoda in Myanmar. Later in January, he met Pope Francis at the Vatican, then posted an Instagram photo showing him showing an Instagram from December, when Schock visited his childhood basilica in Argentina.
He “loved it!” Schock raved on Instagram, where he has more than 16,000 followers.
Schock told The Peoria Journal Star he went to the Vatican for a concert marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Schock did not say who paid for the trip, and the lawmaker’s aides declined to answer that question Friday.
Whether some of Schock’s trips are for business purposes or purely recreational is hard to tell, since his aides turned aside all the Tribune’s questions about his trips.
Lawmakers do not need to file any paperwork on their vacations, but when the government or a private sponsor pays, they do. There can be a lag between the trip and the disclosure.
One official trip Schock made was a three-country swing through Asia in April, when he mugged for the camera with another GOP lawmaker at the Great Wall of China.
In a move toward damage control, Schock’s office announced last week that he had hired two Washington lawyers — both have worked for him before — to “review the compliance procedures” in his office and in his political funds “to determine whether they can be improved.”
His statement added: “Congressman Schock has a well-deserved outstanding reputation for constituent service and remains steadfastly focused on serving the people in Illinois’ 18th congressional district during this review.”
Unclear is how sharp and steady his focus has been.
A day after his re-election Nov. 4, Schock rewarded himself with a night in Nashville, Tenn., at the Country Music Awards, a show billed as “Country Music’s Biggest Night.”
Later in November, he showed up in Los Angeles at the American Music Awards. In April, he hit Las Vegas for the Academy of Country Music Awards.
Schock has missed 4.9 percent of the House votes during his career, more than double the 2.2 percent median lifetime rate of sitting House members, according to GovTrack.us, a website that reports on Congress.
Four Democratic House members from Illinois have worse voting records than Shock: Democrats Bobby Rush (missed 15.5 percent of career roll-call votes), Luis Gutierrez (12.2 percent) Tammy Duckworth (12 percent) and Danny Davis (5.9 percent).
Thirteen House members had better voting records than Schock, with Democrat Bill Foster and Republican Randy Hultgren having the top records, since each missed less than 1 percent of votes.
An official trip in April took Schock to Japan, China and South Korea. In August, with Congress in recess and at a time he was facing a nominal opponent in the fall, he went, Instagram shows, to London and to Symi, a Greek island near the Turkish coast.
Later in August he took an official trip to India, just as he’d done in spring 2013.
In his latest trip to India, Schock met the country’s prime minister and toured water sanitation projects. The trip, Aug. 24 to 29 and costing $6,214, was paid for by the Global Poverty Project.
In Peoria, Chris Reigle, 43, sat down for lunch downtown and said a “rising political star” should be more adept on social media. But he wasn’t sure if the congressman’s adventures would hurt him
“As long as he’s getting the job done, the voters will be happy with him,” Reigle said.
Tribune reporter Katherine Skiba reported from Washington.
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