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Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock Resigns Amid Spending Scandal


Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock announced today he is resigning. The 33-year-old Republican has faced weeks of questions about his campaign and personal finances. Juana Summers covers Congress for NPR and joins us with the latest. OK, Juana, what's the back story here?

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: So this comes after weeks of scrutiny over Congressman Schock's ethics and spending in his office and by his campaign. He has faced questions from reporters constantly about his expenses like flights on private jets and stays at pricey hotels and how exactly he paid for them. This controversy surrounding his spending and ethics was sparked by a Washington Post story last month that his office had been decorated in a style similar to the British TV show "Downton Abbey."

But the last straw seemed to be a Politico report that dropped today focusing on Schock's personal vehicle and the thousands of dollars in mileage reimbursements he reportedly received for it. Essentially, he said he billed the federal government and his campaign for 170,000 miles on his personal car, but when he sold it, it only had 80,000 miles on the odometer. So if you do some quick back-of-the-napkin math, according to this story, he was reimbursed for 90,000 miles more than his car was actually ever driven.

GONYEA: And what has Schock said?

SUMMERS: Not a whole lot, Don. He - we haven't seen him here on the Hill today. He hasn't voted, and word of his resignation came through a statement. In it he said that the constant questions over the last six weeks had made it just too hard to serve the people in his Peoria area district were he was elected in 2008. He believes that stepping down is what's best for his constituents.

GONYEA: What was the reaction from members of the Republican House leadership with this news?

SUMMERS: This was a total surprise to them. They tell me that they were not notified before the news broke that Congressman Schock planned to resign his seat at the end of the month. House Speaker John Boehner says that Schock has put the best interest of his constituents at heart and the House first. And others were disappointed. That was to be expected. Congressman Schock has been seen in Republican ranks as a promising rising star. He's been a prolific fundraiser, and in 2013, he even weighed a run for Illinois governor, though he ultimately passed on that. This year he was named a senior deputy whip - kind of a sign of just how much faith the leadership had in him.

GONYEA: And what about his seat? Are Republicans likely to hang on to it?

SUMMERS: This is a district that tilts heavily Republican. Schock won reelection in 2014 with 74 percent of the vote, and Mitt Romney beat President Obama in this district in 2012 by 23 percentage points. So that's an uphill climb, but despite that, Democrats are already weighing in.

A spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee suggested that Schock's resignation shows just how out of control the House GOP is. They say it's more like "Animal House" than the House of Representatives and point out that Schock is the second GOP congressman this year to resign because of an ethics scandal, first, of course, being former New York Congressman Michael Grimm who resigned after pleading guilty to federal tax evasion charges. Now, despite all that and that rhetoric from Democrats, it's not clear that they actually have a shot at retaking the seat.

GONYEA: Thanks, Juana.

SUMMERS: Thank you.

GONYEA: NPR Congressional reporter, Juana Summers. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
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