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Rep. Aaron Schock announces resignation in wake of spending probe

Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), who in a matter of weeks went from a fast track to national prominence to beset by numerous reports of spending misdeeds, announced his resignation from Congress on Tuesday.

Schock, 33, had endured weeks of headlines about the manner in which he has spent from his taxpayer-funded account for official expenses.

The Office of Congressional Ethics had commenced a review of his spending, The Washington Post reported Monday, after reports that started with a $40,000 tab on decorating his Capitol Hill office in the manner of the PBS show "Downton Abbey" and continued into personal finances and travel expenditures.

[Feb. 2: Rep. Schock has a "Downton Abbey"-inspired office, but he does not want to talk about it]

An OCE probe is considered a first step in addressing misdeeds. It lacks subpoena power but makes recommendations to the House Ethics Committee, which serves as the formal investigator and can issue punishment to lawmakers.

"The constant questions over the last six weeks have proven a great distraction that has made it too difficult for me to serve the people of the 18th District with the high standards that they deserve and which I have set for myself," Schock said in a statement issued by his office.

Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) resigned from Congress amid allegations he misused funds. The Washington Post's Ben Terris explains a few things lawmakers might want to avoid if they want to keep their seats. (Video: Julie Percha/The Washington Post)

His resignation takes effect March 31, after House Republicans have handled their annual budget outline and another key domestic policy vote. Illinois officials will have to schedule a special election to find a successor to Schock, whose district is solidly Republican and is not likely to draw a strong Democratic challenge.

From the covers of magazines such as Men's Health and a deeply cultivated social media presence, Schock pushed a man-on-the-go motion that seemed to position him for a long future in Republican politics.

The lawmaker had appeared to be preparing to weather the storm, hiring a new team of legal advisers — including Don McGahn, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, and a public relations team of former senior GOP aides — to review his official taxpayer funds, his political accounts and determine whether any spending or fundraising was amiss.

On Tuesday morning, Schock was where he could be found most days, in the House gym working out with fellow lawmakers.

"A happy guy," Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), a regular workout partner, said of his demeanor.

Schock has long been a gregarious and youthful presence in the House Republican conference known for his social-media savvy and outsized ambitions. He flirted with running for governor ahead of the 2014 election and has frequently told his friends that he would like to climb the leadership ladder inside the House, perhaps one day becoming speaker.

[The Fix: Schock is the youngest person to leave Congress early. These are others who have resigned.]

During last year’s leadership scramble in the House, following the stunning defeat of then-House majority leader Eric Cantor in a Republican primary, Schock showed his colleagues he was serious about bolstering his profile, even if he had to turn his back on a fellow Illinois Republican.

As the 2014 elections approached, his advisers floated his potential candidacy to run the National Republican Congressional Committee, a post that is the party's top political strategist and who oversees a budget of more than $150 million over the two-year election cycle.

While he eventually did not get that post — he deferred a bid once House Republicans gained 13 seats and the incumbent, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), was unchallenged for a second term — Schock's fundraising prowess has always made him a political player in Washington. Despite coming from a largely rural district, he had raised more than $6 million for his 2012 and 2014 campaigns, a massive sum for a 33-year-old back-bencher without a powerful committee post.

The end came swiftly, and, in the final hours, without warning.

Schock's saga began Feb. 2 when The Washington Post reported about the expansive office redesign modeled after the British TV show with a cult following on PBS. The interior designer offered the services for free, and that prompted liberal watchdog groups to allege that it was an inappropriate gift. Last month, Schock paid  $40,000 from his personal finances to cover the cost.

That incident prompted a flurry of stories about his use of private charter planes that he says are to get around his district, concert ticket purchases, trips overseas and other forms of travel. On Monday night, Politico questioned him about what appeared to be his over billing the federal government and his political campaign for miles traveled in his car throughout his sprawling, Peoria-based district.

Ted Mottaz, a Schock constituent who had scheduled a meeting with Schock on behalf of corn producers, said he spoke with staff about agricultural policy.  Mottaz, a Republican from Elmwood, Ill., said it was "disappointing" to see Schock associated with the spending allegations.

"I'm a 'Downton Abbey' fan, but that surprised me," he said of the story on Schock's office decor that touched off the scrutiny. "He kind of lost sight of what he was doing for us in the district."

Schock issued his statement before alerting House Republican leaders, according to associates familiar with the timeline of events Tuesday. Taken aback by the breaking news, many advisers in the senior House GOP ranks said privately that they were dismayed by Schock's decision before conferring with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) or House Majority Leader Kevin O. McCarthy (R-Calif.).

"I haven't spoken to him yet, but I think he's trying to put his constituents in front since this stuff has overtaken the ability to do certain things. He's putting them first," McCarthy said en route to the House floor late Tuesday afternoon.

Boehner declined comment.

On Monday evening, Schock was spotted entering the second floor of the Capitol on the Democratic side. With his head down and face grim, he rushed toward the floor and did not take questions from reporters and hovered near the back of the chamber during the roll call.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the fourth ranking House Republican, expressed sadness in an interview. Like Schock, she has been a proponent of using social media to expand the GOP's reach and, at age 45, she has developed a kinship with many of the House's younger conservatives. "I'm heartbroken for him and us," she said. "He had a lot to offer." She paused for a moment, and added, "I should probably just leave it at that."

He represents a region of distinction, but one that has frequently brought unfulfilled ambition in the House. In the late 1840s, Abraham Lincoln represented much of Schock's current district, leaving the House after just one term.

From 1957 through 1994, Robert Michel (R-Ill.) held the seat, the last 16 of which he served as the minority leader who never brought Republicans to the majority. Michel's top aide, Ray LaHood, a moderate Republican in a caucus that grew increasingly conservative, represented the district for the next 14 years.

LaHood retired in 2008, frustrated, but his fellow Illinois friend, Rahm Emanuel, the incoming White House chief of staff, recruited LaHood to become secretary of transportation under President Obama.

Now, with Schock vacating the seat, one of the leading contenders to succeed him is Darin LaHood, LaHood's son and a state senator representing much of the district in the Illinois state capital.