Schock getting comfortable

DeWayne Bartels
U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Peoria), right, meets last month with Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan.

Aaron Schock looked at the photo of his swearing in as the U.S. representative for the 18th District and smiled.

The question posed to him was whether Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, smiling broadly in the photo, still smiled at him like that after a contentious year with the freshman Republican.

Schock laughed.

“She still smiles,” he said. “Despite our disagreements, we still have a cordial relationship.”

Fast and furious

Schock, now 28, completed his first year in Congress Jan. 6.

Schock said he is getting comfortable with a job that had a very high learning curve and no time to get settled in before issues like the Economic Stimulus Package and the Obama Health Care Bill came up.

Schock said a lot of his success, so far, has been due to his good fortune in getting an experienced staff.

“I can honestly say I’ve never felt uncomfortable in the seat. I can honestly say everyday is a thrill. I love making a difference,” Schock said.

He said the biggest change to get used to is the fact his life is no longer his own. He said in the past year, aside from his work at the Capitol, he has come home every weekend, except one. That means about 10 hours on a plane and countless hours in a car, covering 20 counties and 161 towns.

“Being home doesn’t mean sleeping in my own bed. It means being in Quincy and Decatur, too,” he said.

“But, that’s what makes this position so exciting.”

Trying?

Schock took a long pause when asked if aspects of the job are trying.

“There’s trying things, both personally and globally. By that I mean the process. It can takes years to get something done. The process is cumbersome,” he said.

“But, what’s nice is that when I call a federal agency about a constituent’s concern I get a call back.”

Despite his frustration, Schock has passed more legislation than any other Republican freshman.

He has seen legislation passed, among others, to strengthen ID theft protections, increase funding for housing counseling, to increase the likelihood that banks will lend to small businesses and increase access to capital for small businesses involved in renewable energy production or research.

He helped secure $40.27 million for Illinois projects.

Schock said, while he is a member of the minority party, building relationships has helped him tremendously when it comes to getting legislation passed.

“There were four freshman retreats when I arrived. Most new representatives go to one. I went to all four. I got to know everyone, their families, their interests. I can now cross the aisle and people are comfortable with me. It’s also the power of a good idea,” Schock said.

“You have to be willing to be bi-partisan. I feel comfortable taking on the whole job — from constituent work to legislation to advocating for the area I represent.”

Schock said while he is willing to work in a bipartisan manner, the Democrats have not been so willing. Pelosi, he said, has been very partisan.

“When it comes to bipartisanship, the environment is determined by the leadership. The Democrats control the leadership,” Schock said. “Pelosi often has a my-way-or- the-highway attitude making bipartisanship tough. Myself, my record shows that I have voted with the Democrats about 30 percent of the time.”

One of the things Schock said he found trying in the beginning was the age issue. He was only 27 when sworn in, the youngest member of the U.S. House. The average age in the house for members is 57.

“My age is no longer an issue. I’m proud of that,” he said.

Looking ahead

Schock said as he looks ahead at the new year, unemployment is the big issue he is concerned about.

“People are hurting. To me, the major focus of our government needs to be the economy. When that’s taken care of, everything else will fall into place,” Schock said.

After that, the nation’s issue with debt comes up.

Schock looked down when asked about his future aspirations and whether it might include a run for the presidency, which he would be old enough for in seven years.

“That has come up. I can honestly say that if someone had told me eight years ago that I would run for U.S. Congress and win, I would have told them they were crazy,” Schock said.

“Fate favors the prepared. If you do your job well, eventually you will get an opportunity to advance,” Schock said. “Just as I haven’t controlled my destiny the last 10 years, I don’t think I’ll control my destiny in the next 10. I’m going to take every election seriously,” he said. “When you get confident is when you get into trouble.”