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Pols Pounce on Kitties of Congress Campaign

Political leaders have famously compared the infinitely frustrating chore of having to steer a majority of their members toward any given goal as being tantamount to herding cats.

Too bad they didn’t have kitten-flinging, relationship builder Benny Johnson in their corners.

BuzzFeed’s Viral Politics Editor has had lawmakers eating out of the palm of his hand all week thanks to his “Kitties of Congress” campaign, a playful base-broadening ploy he launched on Feb. 21.

While he originally toyed with the idea last March, Johnson told HOH he recently decided to fully embrace the cat-to-congress crossover — and, more importantly, resolved to make lawmakers do the same.

“This year, one of my personal goals is to get followed by every member of congress on Twitter. This kitty campaign partially serves that end, but also provides a fun social interaction component that is far too rare in politics,” Johnson said of his unconventional outreach.

His plan hinges on helping solons shoot past the worst stuff on the web (“corny partisan messaging tools that no one really enjoys or shares”) and embrace some purely-for-the-hell-of-it silliness.

“Kitties of Congress is about getting members to join in a fun internet meme simply because it is enjoyable, like normal people do,” he suggested. “I’m thrilled that it has been successful and I will continue to make kitties for every member who follows me.“

By his count, over 100 lawmakers have followed him down this particular rabbit hole to date. We tallied roughly six dozen congressional followers — with Republicans outpacing Democrats, roughly two-to-one in terms of reaching out — who had opted in for the feline matchmaking.

Using Johnson’s math, this social media stunt has already dwarfed several coalition-building efforts happening on Capitol Hill right now, wooing five times the number of those willing to rally around the House GOP’s tenuous immigration plan and scores more than those who have formally lined up behind head taxwriter Dave Camp’s pitch to rewrite the Internal Revenue Code.

The response has been rather overwhelming.

So much so, in fact, that Johnson struggled to strike a work-life balance once the new recruits began piling on.

“The major problem this week was having so many members following me at once that I can hardly keep up. I made Kitties of Congress for two days straight, morning to night. I mean, that is all I did,” he estimated. “I was out with friends and it was like ‘Oh, Amy Klobuchar just followed. Gotta get her a kitty.’”

His army of acolytes includes:

  • Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill.
  • Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky.
  • Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md.
  • Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio
  • Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio
  • Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore. (recipient of multiple photo pairings)
  • Rep. Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y.

  • Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif. (recipient of multiple photo pairings)
  • Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas
  • Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla.
  • Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif.
  • Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr., D-N.J.
  • Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas
  • Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan.
  • Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio
  • Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn.
  • Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich.
  • Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill.
  • Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore.
  • Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas (“It was purrfect,” Stockman spokesman Donny Ferguson said of the resulting artwork.)
  • Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.
  • Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.

  • Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif.
  • Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas (recipient of multiple photo pairings)
  • Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas
  • Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala.
  • Rep. Frederica S. Wilson, D-Fla.
  • Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis.
  • Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J.
  • Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev.
  • Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif.
  • Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif.

  • Rep. Paul Cook, R-Calif.
  • Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio
  • Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan.
  • Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga.
  • Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn.
  • Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.

  • Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas
  • Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M. (recipient of multiple photo pairings)
  • Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.
  • Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.
  • Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y.
  • Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn.
  • Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Ind.
  • Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich.
  • Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La.

  • Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio
  • Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. (recipient of multiple photo pairings)
  • Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas (recipient of multiple photo pairings)

  • Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif.
  • Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn.
  • Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich.

  • Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. (recipient of multiple photo pairings)
  • Rep. Todd Young, R-Ind.
  • Rep. Michael G. Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.
  • Rep. John Fleming, R-La.
  • Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.

  • Speaker John Boehner, R-Ill. (recipient of multiple photo pairings)
  • Sen, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
  • Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.
  • Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
  • Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
  • Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C.

  • Rep. Susan W. Brooks, R-Ind.
  • Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. (“Bike helmets save lives,” Cardin spokeswoman Sue Walitsky fired back.)

  • Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas
  • Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas
  • Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala.
  • Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas
  • Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.
  • Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas

  • Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C.
  • Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, D-Mo.

Johnson said he’s been bowled over by bonhomie the pet project has generated. He is not, however, afraid to go negative — if that’s what’s required to shame the hundreds of holdouts into submission.

Several new acquaintances have not only cozied up to the web wizard, they’ve taken their engagement to the next level.

Meme magnate Issa — see #tbt, #FridayKitty — responded in kind (‘natch)

McMorris Rodgers played it totally cool, declaring herself more of a dog person anyway

Kaine went meta, mentioning his trouncing of a certain tabby during the 2012 cycle

Cleaver sniffed out the trend early on and elected to rattle Johnson’s cage first

Even civvies want in on the fun.

C-SPAN’s Howard Mortman floated images he wanted to see thrown into the mix, offering up a screen grab of ex-Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., pontificating next to a Garfield poster

Republican State Leadership Committee aide Ashleigh Grant dug in further, demanding that all year end reports concerning congress include a glossy KoC recap

Author Amelia Hamilton is so enthralled by the epic time suck, she’s considering putting herself through the electoral wringer just to be included

Johnson said he really appreciated the extra effort Issa and Cleaver put into playing along. And he’s thrilled Boehner hopped aboard the fur-lined bandwagon.

But don’t worry: Johnson swears he’s only just begun.

“I have some in mind for the leadership of both houses,” the mirth maker asserted. “But I won’t make/release them until the member follows. *hint* *hint*”

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Photos of the week ending June 14, 2024