By Stacey Tinsley
Republican Congressman Mike Johnson, LA-04, has a scheduled meeting with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office Friday. He announced this meeting during the Greater Minden Chamber’s weekly COVID-19 information call Thursday.
Johnson has become a trusted member of President Donald Trump’s inner circle. He travels regularly with the president on Air Force One to football games, rallies and was one of the faces of Trump’s impeachment defense team.
Trump and some Republicans like Johnson had run in 2016 on repealing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Lawmakers quickly put together legislation in the House to replace Obamacare when the new Congress convened in 2017.
But some conservatives like Johnson and other members of the Freedom Caucus voted no, despite Trump’s support.
“I was reviewing the legislation and realized that it was going to be a high risk. It was going to drive the premiums higher for almost every demographic. So it wasn’t going to help with the greatest concerns. It wasn’t going to solve the problem,” Johnson said. “I had to stand by my convictions because I represent 760,000 Louisianas. I couldn’t support it.”
Hearing what was happening, Trump called Johnson to urge him to support the bill.
“He called me and he spent 20 minutes on the phone trying to urge me to support the bill. I spent the time respectively explaining to him why it was not a good piece of legislation. I wasn’t sure if he was made aware of all of the concerns about it,” Johnson said. “We sort of agree to disagree. I thought after that, ‘Well, that would not be a good start for our relationship.’”
That legislation died, but the House, with Johnson’s vote, later passed a revamped bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act that later failed in the Senate.
“In the aftermath of that whole experience, I always thought that the president appreciated my resolve and principle. I think a lot of people have a misconception about President Trump. They think that he wants to be surrounded by ‘yes men.’ But in my experience he appreciates strengths, conviction and resolve,” said Johnson.
In the weeks to follow, Trump invited Johnson, and the other congressmen who stood by their convictions, to the White house to thank them.
“He thanked us for standing our ground. That was the start of our relationship,” said Johnson.
In the Fall of 2018, Johnson was elected chairman of the Republican Study Committee by House Republicans. This position was previously held by Vice President Mike Pence and Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise.
“The Republican Study Committee is the largest Republican caucus with 147 members,
which is of great interest to the president,” Johnson said. “The president really respects this group. I don’t always tell him what he wants to hear, but I think there is great value in that. I think he appreciates that. He knows that I have his best interest, and the country’s interest at heart.”
Johnson said their bond has strengthened since then, and during the course of Trump’s eight visits to Louisiana.
“I went to the Alabama game with him, and went to the national championship game with him. He’s made eight trips to Louisiana. I think that’s the most of any president. I’ve gotten a lot of access to develop a close relationship with the president. So it’s been good for the state,” said Johnson.
Johnson’s relationship with Trump advanced when Trump picked him as a member of his defense team during the impeachment trial in the Senate.
“I was one of the eight members of the house that he asked to serve on his impeachment defense team,” Johnson said. “It was an extraordinary experience.”
Johnson says his growing relationship with the president has been good for not only the state, but for his district, including his 2019 rally at the CenturyLink Center in Bossier City.
“The benefits for having him here in Bossier for the rally was good because he got to see all of Bossier first hand. When I’m advocating for the needs of Northwest Louisiana, specifically for Bossier Parish, it’s clearly in focus for the white house staff and the president. It’s just a great benefit to all of us.”
David Specht contributed to this report.