• Several Republicans were tickled by Ron Johnson's clumsy media dodge.
  • Many agreed that it's never fun being in the hot seat, but said answering honestly is best.
  • Keeping quiet is better than "getting caught flat-footed," according to one lawmaker.

GOP colleagues got a kick out of Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson's awkward attempt at avoiding a media grilling last week following revelations from the January 6 select committee's ongoing public hearings

Insider quizzed nearly a dozen Senate Republicans about Johnson's gaffe, all of whom at the very least cracked a smile — one roared with laughter, punctuating the unexpected outburst with an "I love it!" — when asked about go-to evasive maneuvers. 

In a now-viral video, Johnson is seen holding his phone up to his ear as a group of reporters ask about his chief of staff's alleged involvement in Donald Trump's scheme to overturn the 2020 election results. 


The problem with the unartful dodge was that a reporter told Johnson he knew he wasn't making a call because he could see the senator's phone screen, prompting Johnson to switch to damage control mode and say that his staff trying to pass off fake electors as real so the embattled former president could keep his job was "a complete non-story." 

While none of the Republicans Insider interviewed on Capitol Hill before they scattered to the wind for a two-week recess copped to using the pretend phone call trick themselves — a tactic members on both sides of the aisle readily employ when they spot press coming — several commented on common practices like making bureaucracy work for them (talk to my scheduler, call the press shop, etc.) or setting down ground rules (local press only, no hallway interviews).

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin tinkers with his phone while in one of the elevators outside the Senate chamber on September 28, 2016. Foto: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, who jousted with sports journalists throughout his decades-long college football coaching career, said he's found it's always best just to hit whatever's happening head on. 

"Tell 'em what you think," Tuberville said of his approach to dealing with nosey reporters.  

Sen. Rick Scott of Florida harkened back to lessons learned during his two terms as governor of the Sunshine State. "When I was governor I did two live press conferences almost every day. So I've been used to answering people's questions," Scott said. "And if I don't know the answer, I don't know the answer." 

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who typically hits Capitol Hill reporters with an immediate "no comment," explained why he reflexively keeps the press at bay. 

"You're doing your job. But frequently, you know, my mind is in a different place," Cotton said while waiting for the Senate subway. The suspected 2024 presidential hopeful added that quite often he's engrossed in committee work or pending legislation. And he said personal issues can pull focus, too. 

"I'm thinking about a sick kid. Or late for a meeting with Arkansans," Cotton said of day-to-day challenges. "That's why I typically try to schedule interviews."

Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri described himself as "pretty accessible," noting that he does weekly, on-camera interviews with Show-Me State outlets that are "no holds barred." While he said he understands that some colleagues would rather keep to themselves while in Washington, Hawley sees no reason not to engage. 

"For better or for worse, I usually just answer your questions," the likely 2024 presidential candidate told Insider. 

Sen. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming was the most forthcoming of the bunch. 

"Well, I do know some back staircases that kind of help me avoid this area," Lummis said while strolling through a section of the Capitol that's typically crawling with congressional reporters. If the news of the day is totally outside her wheelhouse, Lummis said she prefers to keep her head down rather than comment off the cuff "because I just don't want to get caught flat-footed." 

Retiring Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri chuckled while contemplating the question. "My staff says I'm way too willing to talk to the press," he said with a laugh. 

Blunt added that he's typically open to talking to reporters but stressed that there are times when staying silent makes more sense. "Occasionally there are things that you can't negotiate in the hallway or through the press," he told Insider between votes.  

Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, who's endured constant scrutiny as a businessman, former governor, and the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, said speaking plainly and truthfully is part of retaining the public's trust. 

"We live and die based on people knowing what we're talking about," Romney said.  

When Insider approached Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina for comment about sidestepping sticky situations, he executed a textbook move. 

"I gotta run," Graham said, his right hand flipping into the "stop" position as he started speed-walking toward the Senate chamber. "I'll talk to you later." 

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