Why Speaker Mike Johnson's Rumored Sleeping Arrangements Sparked Controversy

Where does Louisiana native and House Speaker Mike Johnson, who made history albeit not necessarily for the right reasons, go when he finishes his Washington workday? According to rumors swirling around Capitol Hill, nowhere. Though these stories understandably remain unconfirmed by Johnson's team, there is more than one major indicator that the formerly low-level politician is bunking in his office overnight.

Business Insider spoke with two lawmakers who work in the same Cannon House Office Building as Johnson in early November 2023, and they both suspected Johnson had been sleeping in the office overnight due to the near-constant presence of the politician's security detail and various sightings of Johnson in the House gym, which many overnighters use to shower before work, in the early hours of the morning.

Ross Barrett, a Louisiana businessman and a friend of Johnson's, confirmed the unnamed politicians' suspicions. "He hasn't gotten an extensive apartment on Capitol Hill or anything like that," he said. "Oftentimes, he spends the nights in his office." Depending on who you ask, Johnson's sleeping arrangements are either a respectable sign of his dedication to his new appointment or an annoying and unsanitary tax workaround.

Lawmakers argued over this practice long before Johnson's appointment

Louisiana Representative Mike Johnson was elected Speaker of the House in October 2023, but this is hardly the first time lawmakers have raised an eyebrow at sleeping over in the office. More than 24 members of the Congressional Black Caucus called for an ethics investigation into the overnight practice in 2018, asserting that it's an inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars. 

"Members who sleep overnight in their offices receive free lodging, free cable, free security, free cleaning services, and utilize other utilities free of charge in direct violation of the ethics rule which prohibits official resources from being used for personal purposes," a letter to Ethics Committee Chairwoman Susan Brooks and ranking member Red Deutch stated, per Politico. Moreover, plenty of politicians consider the practice just plain unclean. 

"There's something unsanitary about bringing people to your office who are talking about public policy where you spent the night, and that's unhealthy, unsanitary — and some people would say it's almost nasty," Mississippi Representative Bennie Thompson argued. Two years later, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the same concerns were raised by California Representative Jackie Speier, per NPR. However, with Johnson (and others) reportedly still bunking in their offices in 2023, it's clear that they have largely been ignored.

Mike Johnson reportedly joins a long line of sleepover politicians

Opting to sleep in the office became a Capitol Hill norm thanks to Texas Representative Dick Armey, whose 1994 "Republican Revolution" aimed to highlight the conservative right's frugality and dedication to their positions. Due to its divisive nature, not all politicians who use their office as a makeshift hotel room — aptly nicknamed "the cot club" — are eager to disclose their sleeping arrangements. However, many high-profile lawmakers have admitted to the practice, including two former House Speakers: Paul Ryan and Johnson's direct predecessor, Kevin McCarthy.

Business Insider's investigation into Speaker Mike Johnson's finances revealed that he is not exactly the most affluent of U.S. politicians, with an ongoing mortgage with an estimated value between $250,000 and $500,000 from Citizens National Bank, though his new appointment comes with a substantial raise. Johnson's debts include a personal loan and a home equity line of credit the politician took out on the Louisiana home he shares with his four kids and his wife, Kelly. Johnson's not-officially-adopted "son," Michael, also has a family of his own in California.

Speaker Johnson's staff have not commented publicly on whether the politician is bunking in his office, and it's unlikely they ever will. But considering the evidence presented by his co-workers, the long conservative-held tradition on Capitol Hill, and Insider's inability to produce a D.C. address associated with Johnson from a public records database, all signs point to the new speaker spending long days (and nights) in his Cannon House Office Building bedroom, er, office.