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.
Thanks for the follow @SpeakerBoehner -- here is your Kitty of Congress! pic.twitter.com/0fp9ZQ39p1 — BuzzFeed Benny (@bennyjohnson) February 25, 2014
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.
Thanks for the follow @RepWilson -- here is your Kitty of Congress! pic.twitter.com/xiomWu8EY1 — BuzzFeed Benny (@bennyjohnson) February 24, 2014
“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.
Thanks for the follow @amyklobuchar -- here is your Kitty of Congress! pic.twitter.com/r8f5GY89DZ — BuzzFeed Benny (@bennyjohnson) February 25, 2014
“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.
Thanks for the follow @NitaLowey -- here is your Kitty of Congress! pic.twitter.com/lg5Mpdrw1x — BuzzFeed Benny (@bennyjohnson) February 24, 2014
- 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.
Thanks for the follow @SaxbyChambliss -- here is your Kitty of Congress! pic.twitter.com/Ut458gmvjh — BuzzFeed Benny (@bennyjohnson) February 24, 2014
- 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.
Thanks for the follow @RepHuffman -- here is your Kitty of Congress! pic.twitter.com/r4cZCNfy9V — BuzzFeed Benny (@bennyjohnson) February 24, 2014
- 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.
Thanks for the follow @MicheleBachmann -- here is your Kitty of Congress! pic.twitter.com/UdAu2oXyBI — BuzzFeed Benny (@bennyjohnson) February 24, 2014
- 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.
Thanks for the follow @SteveScalise -- here is your Kitty of Congress! pic.twitter.com/Q3NRsQVNJF — BuzzFeed Benny (@bennyjohnson) February 25, 2014
- 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)
Hey, @replouiegohmert -- pic.twitter.com/ij00es2vjb — BuzzFeed Benny (@bennyjohnson) February 25, 2014
- Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif.
- Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn.
- Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich.
Thanks for the follow @RepFredUpton -- here is your Kitty of Congress! pic.twitter.com/qpHfBxfifF — BuzzFeed Benny (@bennyjohnson) February 25, 2014
- 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.
Thanks for the follow @timkaine -- here is your Kitty of Congress! pic.twitter.com/dLGVrtWi2J — BuzzFeed Benny (@bennyjohnson) February 25, 2014
- 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.
Thanks for the follow @RepJeffDuncan -- here is your Kitty of Congress! pic.twitter.com/Tnq5RavGVf — BuzzFeed Benny (@bennyjohnson) February 25, 2014
- Rep. Susan W. Brooks, R-Ind.
- Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. (“Bike helmets save lives,” Cardin spokeswoman Sue Walitsky fired back.)
Thanks for the follow @SenatorCardin -- here is your Kitty of Congress! pic.twitter.com/lot375V5GQ — BuzzFeed Benny (@bennyjohnson) February 25, 2014
- 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
Thanks for the follow @farenthold -- here is your Kitty of Congress! pic.twitter.com/2PhfNZpA2l — BuzzFeed Benny (@bennyjohnson) February 27, 2014
- 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.
Only 10 Senators have followed for their Congressional kitty, leading me to believe that 90 Senators embrace an "anti-kitty" stance — BuzzFeed Benny (@bennyjohnson) February 26, 2014
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)
@bennyjohnson In recognition of your work for kitties across the internet, I present to you Benny Kitty. pic.twitter.com/gvAJThahwg — Darrell Issa (@DarrellIssa) February 25, 2014
McMorris Rodgers played it totally cool, declaring herself more of a dog person anyway
Thanks @BennyJohnson, but no offense, we (especially Grace) are more of a dog family. pic.twitter.com/x2eiTyWxg2 — CathyMcMorrisRodgers (@cathymcmorris) February 24, 2014
Kaine went meta, mentioning his trouncing of a certain tabby during the 2012 cycle
.@bennyjohnson As the only U.S. Senator to have defeated a cat in a general election, I accept. #RIPHank — Senator Tim Kaine (@timkaine) February 25, 2014
Cleaver sniffed out the trend early on and elected to rattle Johnson's cage first
I see what you’re doing here, @bennyjohnson. Let me show you how it’s done: pic.twitter.com/XjyeluMwEB — Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (@repcleaver) February 24, 201
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
For @bennyjohnson #KittiesOfCongress collection (2003) pic.twitter.com/mES1rgCtOG — Howard Mortman (@HowardMortman) February 25, 2014
Republican State Leadership Committee aide Ashleigh Grant dug in further, demanding that all year end reports concerning congress include a glossy KoC recap
From here on out...any annual report on congress must include a section dedicated to @bennyjohnson's Kitties of Congress... in full color. — Ashleigh Grant (@ashleighgrant) February 24, 2014
Author Amelia Hamilton is so enthralled by the epic time suck, she's considering putting herself through the electoral wringer just to be included
I’m going to run for office just to get a Kitty of Congress from @bennyjohnson — Amelia (@AmeliaHammy) February 24, 2014
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*”