From the drippy crystal chandelier to the gold wall sconce, lawmakers want to clarify Congress never allowed its members to pay for the lavish decor inside Illinois Republican Aaron Schock's office.
"Current regulations prohibit use of official resources to furnish a Washington, D.C., office," House Administration Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., emphasized from the dais Wednesday during an 45-minute markup of a resolution on new spending rules. Though Miller and her colleagues never mentioned Schock or "Downton Abbey" — the inspiration for the office makeover exposed by Washington Post reporter Ben Terris — the allegations against him were obviously a sore spot.
"None of us want to have an ethics complaint against us or the FBI coming in and seizing your records. None of us want that to happen," said Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Fla., during debate about an amendment to the resolution.
Schock's lawyers spent the summer fighting over a government subpoena for thousands of financial records as a grand jury proceeded with its probe.
“The resolution that is being considered [does] not suggest this particular member’s culpability," Miller said in prepared remarks. "This is not an investigative body.”
Discussion by members, including fellow Illinois Republican Rodney Davis, who was a close friend of Schock's in Congress, steered clear of the embattled former lawmaker's case. The committee unanimously approved the new rules, which take effect immediately, placing new limits on mileage reimbursements, charter plane travel and add more transparency to the receipt filing process.
"This whole review process wasn't about one member or former member," Davis told CQ Roll Call after the hearing. Miller picked Davis, who worked for 16 years as a congressional staffer before coming to Congress, to lead the review along with Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., another former staffer.
But the new rules smack of allegations that led Schock to the exits. One provision limits vehicles eligible for mileage reimbursement to cars personally owned or personally leased by members or staff. Another requires lawmakers to get written approval if they want to spend more than $5,000 on any office furnishing.
Schock repayed $40,000 from his personal checkbook to cover the office decor a few weeks before he resigned.
"We'll find out how that happened in a separate House review for the one flamboyant instance in which that did not occur," Lofgren said about Schock's violation of the current prohibition. "Most members of Congress want to play by the rules."
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