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Desperately Seeking Johnson

The absence of anyone with a clear inside track to Johnson illuminates one of the vulnerabilities in Washington’s relationship-based business model.
The absence of anyone with a clear inside track to Johnson illuminates one of the vulnerabilities in Washington’s relationship-based business model. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Tara Palmeri
November 16, 2023

These days, one of the biggest fibs on K Street is that each firm has at least one lobbyist on staff who has a relationship with Mike Johnson. And, this being K Street, not just a relationship but a relationship—as in, they can fire off a text or make a phone call and get a rapid response à la the halcyon days of the Kevin McCarthy gravy train. It’s the promise of connectivity, after all, that powers the multibillion-dollar influence industry.

Alas, Johnson really isn’t that kind of guy: Perhaps an aversion to lobbyists is part of his self-avowed purity, but it’s also a byproduct of his wonky personality. I’m told by his colleagues on the Judiciary committee that Johnson was never a good texter, even when he was a backbencher. “The whole joke is that the guy doesn’t know anybody,” said one prominent G.O.P. lobbyist. Noted another: “Yes, K Street likes to lie, but he came out of fucking nowhere, and now they’re like, ‘Yeah, I know someone who used to work for him.’”