A second-term lawmaker on the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., is working to position himself as a leader on trade and tax reform. So how does a 30-year-old, Men’s Health cover boy best known for his six-pack abs make a mark in a world where graybeards rule and seniority is king? Schock sat down with National Journal to explain. Edited excerpts of the interview follow.
NJ: You wanted to talk about your work on Ways and Means. How did you get on that committee?
SCHOCK: Basically, I took kind of a two-front war. One was getting out front on policies. I think the leadership saw me as a spokesman on the issues and someone who could articulate the issues and understood them. And then on the political front, I went out and raised a lot of money and campaigned really hard for my team, and we ultimately won the majority back.
NJ: What’s the most important thing you’ve done so far on Ways and Means?
SCHOCK: As far as ball through the hoop, goal accomplished, that would be the trade agreements. The fact that we haven’t had a trade agreement in a decade, and we passed three of them my first year on the committee, that’s a home run. If there’s anything I played a role in on the trade agreements, it was primarily on Colombia. I created the Colombia Caucus. I met with [Democratic Rep.] Greg Meeks [of New York], who I bonded with on a delegation with [Minority Whip] Steny Hoyer down to Colombia, and he and I worked to build a bipartisan group of people that then sent that letter to the president saying, “Hey, there really is support for Colombia. Don’t just do South Korea and Panama.”
NJ: Among committee Republicans, you rank in the bottom third in seniority. Why should people care what you think?
SCHOCK: I just got on! I’m in the top of the bottom third. First of all, we are all given an equal vote and equal amount of time, and what you do with that time determines how effective you are on the committee. So, while I may not be the most senior member, I still think I can use my time and position to affect the outcome of tax reform. Between scandals, retirements, and appointments, I’ve moved up pretty quick. And now, with a couple more retirements announced, I’m going to move up at least a couple more seats. Time is everything out here, along with seniority. I might even make it to the second row one day.
NJ: How does a sophomore member, who is all of 30, get taken seriously at a table with vets like Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan?
SCHOCK: It’s a lot like high school. If you do your homework, you study hard, you come prepared, you ask intelligent questions, you bring forward thoughtful ideas, you’ll move to the front of the class.
NJ: What’s your message to K Street on tax reform?
SCHOCK: Buckle up.
SCHOCK: Because there are no sacred cows, and while my office has been filled with people lobbying for their credit, deduction, and special provision, I firmly believe all Americans will be better off with a simpler, more fair tax code. Before it’sall done, it will be a wild ride.
NJ: Can I see your abs?
SCHOCK: You need to go buy a magazine.
NJ: More seriously, how important have your abs been to your agenda?
SCHOCK: They have not been important to my agenda at all. Obviously, exercise is an important part of my life, and I think taking care of yourself is an important part of every individual’s health care. I’ve tried to use the attention that I’ve been given on that issue in a constructive manner, and I think what we did in partnership with Men’s Health and the Today show was successful in that end. We had 40,000 people sign up for a fitness challenge, 10,000 people submit before-and-after photos—the most successful fitness challenge that Men’s Health or the Today show have ever done. And if a few thousand people end up changing their life forever, it will have been, I think, a worthy endeavor.
NJ: What grade would you give House SpeakerJohn Boehner?
SCHOCK: Oof, you’re asking me to grade the speaker, huh? I would say B+. With a Republican president, he’d be an A.
NJ: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in trying to get attention, move the agenda, and make yourself a player?
SCHOCK: Relationships are everything—relationships with leadership but also relationships with rank-and-file members. The work that you do off-campus politically helps; it translates into effectiveness on campus with relationships that you’ve built. And, as you get to know individual members, their spouses, their backgrounds, what issues make them tick, it allows you to become a more effective member as you’re advocating for policies and pushing legislation.
This article appears in the May 26, 2012, edition of National Journal Magazine.