I can think of all kinds of members of Congress whose offices have faced one “crisis” or another. But Ben Terris’ report in the Washington Post this week is a very different kind of story.
Terris apparently visited Rep. Aaron Schock’s (R-Ill.) new office on Capitol Hill recently, and noticed the lovely decor, complete with “bright red walls” and a “gold-colored wall sconce with black candles.” An aide behind the front desk told the reporter, “It’s actually based off of the red room in ‘Downton Abbey.’”
And that’s where the story took a curious turn.
A blond woman popped out of an inner office. “Want to see the rest?” she asked.She introduced herself as Annie Brahler, the interior decorator whose company is called Euro Trash. She guided me to Schock’s private office, revealing another dramatic red room. This one with a drippy crystal chandelier, a table propped up by two eagles, a bust of Abraham Lincoln and massive arrangements of pheasant feathers.Then, my phone rang.
As it turns out, Schock’s communications director, Benjamin Cole, asked the reporter, “Are you taking pictures of the office? Who told you you could do that? … Okay, stay where you are. You’ve created a bit of a crisis in the office.”
A member of the congressman’s staff even went so far as to ask Terris to delete the photos he’d already taken.
Why in the world would a reporter taking pictures of a congressman’s office in a public building “create a bit of a crisis”?
At first I thought it just might be embarrassing for the Illinois Republican – who’s usually quite media-savvy – to be seen with an ostentatious office. Schock’s working-class constituents might be put off by the showy display, and no member of Congress wants to come across as an “elitist” – and capturing the vibe of a room from fictional British aristocrats may not play well in Peoria.
I mean that literally, by the way – Aaron Schock actually represents Peoria.
But the story became even more interesting when it became clear that there’s a more formal problem with the congressman’s operation.
Furthering our colleague Ben Terris’s dead-on assessment that “Washington has always been more ‘Veep’ than ‘House of Cards’,” Rep. Aaron Schock’s choice of post-Edwardian era office decor has made him the subject of an ethics complaint.Because it is a day ending in “y,” Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) wasted little time asking the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate whether Schock (R-Ill.) broke House rules by accepting professional interior design work for free. House Ethics rules prohibit lawmakers from accepting free “gifts of services.”
In a statement, CREW said, “Rep. Schock may wish he could escape to an earlier era, but the Office of Congressional Ethics needs to ensure he doesn’t outrun the rules of this one.”
I’d just add for folks who’ve never spent time on Capitol Hill, lawmakers’ offices aren’t exactly hidden. Anyone can walk into a congressional office building and many members’ doors are literally open all day. Plenty of people, including reporters, were going to see the GOP lawmaker’s office. If Schock and his team were concerned about the impression the decor might make, shouldn’t they have thought of this before?