CNBC Transcript: House Speaker Representative Mike Johnson Speaks with CNBC’s Eamon Javers from CNBC’s CEO Council Summit Today

[#item_custom_pubDate]


WHEN: Today, Tuesday, June 4

WHERE: CNBC CEO Council Summit

Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC exclusive interview with House Speaker Representative Mike Johnson and CNBC’s Eamon Javers during the CNBC CEO Council Summit conference in DC today, Tuesday, June 4. Following is a link to video on CNBC.com: https://www.cnbc.com/video/2024/06/04/house-speaker-mike-johnson-the-open-borders-are-doing-catastrophic-damage-to-the-country.html.

Mandatory Credit: CNBC CEO Council Summit

EAMON JAVERS: Alright this is terrific. Mr. Speaker, you will not remember this but the first time we met, you had just been sworn into office and you were so new at the job at the time that I was hanging out with a couple of your staffers in one of the many offices in warren that you had and you were coming through to literally tour the office because you had not seen the speaker’s suite of offices yet, and you were just brand-new at the job, finding your way. Here we are six months later, and you are getting credit for having led a conference that a lot of people thought was unleadable, having done some things on Capitol Hill that a lot of people thought were undoable. What a dramatic transformation this six months has been for you. How does it feel for you as a leader six months in?

REP. MIKE JOHNSON: Surreal, in some ways. This is not a job that I ever anticipated having. And I had a circuitous route to become the speaker. And it’s a challenging time. We all know it. The country’s divided. The Congress is divided. Newt Gingrich posted an op-ed three or four weeks ago, says, Speaker Johnson has the most challenging speakership since the Civil War 160 years ago. And I called him and I said, is this some twisted way of trying to encourage me, man?  And he said: “No, no.” He said: “Did you read the rest of the piece? I said you’re doing an excellent job. It’s just that the job now is almost impossible.” And I said: “Almost. Almost.”

JAVERS: Almost.

JOHNSON: This is the modern Congress. These are the new dynamics, and we have to figure out how to navigate it. And that’s what I do every single day now.

JAVERS: I want to talk to you about economic policy, because there’s been this split that we have been covering on CNBC for a while now between sort of the traditional establishment Republican approach to the economy, which you can think of as the Reaganite consensus, the sort of Chamber of Commerce view, low taxes, low regulation, over the past couple generations. Now, sort of post-Trump, we have got this economic populism on the right. And that’s very much about tariffs. It’s very much about anti-immigration. It’s very much about seeing corporate elites as maybe not our allies, but perhaps our enemies, in terms of cultural values. These are elites, and they’re not one of us. I wonder where you find yourself falling on that spectrum. Are you a traditional Reaganite economic conservative, or are you one of these new economic populists? How would you define yourself?

JOHNSON: Well, I grew up in the Reagan era, and I still think of myself as a Reagan Republican. But I certainly have great respect for what President Trump did. In the 2015-2016 election cycle, he emphasized new things, working families, and workers, and trade, and tariffs, new approaches to that, China threat that he foresaw. And the border, of course, he emphasized. And I think that those ideas and issues were important to bring into the mix, and he expanded the tent, frankly. I am trying to finish my first book, which I have been working on for a while, and it just so happens that it’s part of what we do right now. I refer to what I call the seven core principles of American conservatism. I think it boils down to individual freedom, limited government, the rule of law, peace through strength, fiscal responsibility, free markets, and human dignity. And I suppose all that’s informed by my upbringing in the Reagan years. But I think that we do well to hold fast to those principles. I’m reminded of what Ronald Reagan said in his farewell address. He said:  They call me the great communicator, but I really wasn’t — I paraphrase him. But he said:  I was basically communicating the same great things that have guided our nation since its founding. It was about the message, not the messenger, he said. And those same great things, we are now the stewards of. And I think we abandon them at our peril. So we’re fusing these new ideas, the new emphasis into the tested and tried and true principles, and I think that will serve as well in the days ahead.

JAVERS: You talk about the idea of free markets being so vital to your coalition, but I think Trump really shattered the norm on free markets, right, with his approach to tariffs on China in the first term. And as we look ahead to a potential Trump two term, the president is now campaigning on 10 percent across-the-board tariffs. That’s not something traditional economic conservatives would have supported. It is something the new populists are supporting. Is it something that you are supporting?

JOHNSON: I believe there’s a role to play for that, and I think we will have some very thoughtful discussion of vigorous debate about exactly when that can be applied and how it should be. You can’t argue with President Trump’s approach. I mean, look, I will say this. After the first two years of the first Trump administration, I came to Washington the same time he did for the first time, January 2017. And everyone in this room knows we had achieved the greatest economy in the history of the world, not just the United States. I mean, we had — every demographic was doing better, the economy was roaring, and we did that because we applied those tried-and-true ideas under Trump’s leadership. With the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, we reduced taxes, we reduced regulations dramatically, and that unleashed the free market. It unleashed the free enterprise system. We effectively tried and I think achieved getting the government off the backs of job creators, entrepreneurs, risk takers, so that they could do what they do best, and everybody was doing better. This new team in charge reflexively did almost exactly the opposite, and I think it’s not a mystery of how we get back to prosperity. We implement those same plans and principles again.

JAVERS: What you just said, though, does not sound like a ringing endorsement of 10 percent across-the-board tariffs. I mean, the idea that we will talk about it, we will have a discussion, that doesn’t mean yes, sir, I’m going to salute and march and execute that on Capitol Hill.

JOHNSON: Well, look, I don’t know that we know all the details of all the ideas yet, but I’m open to those discussions. But as the speaker of the House and the leader of my party in the Congress, I’m going to be very careful about what I commit to on the front end. But, listen, it is a thoughtful debate. We’re in interesting times. We’re in unprecedented times in many ways, and I think we need to adapt to that.

JAVERS: One of the things voters seem to be saying, screaming out loud is that inflation is an enormous problem for them. The economy is, by almost every measure, an incredible economy. Inflation has been the sticking point. That’s the thing that voters seem to be screaming about the most. One of the criticisms of the Trump economic agenda is that it is inflationary. You do the 10 percent across-the-board tariffs. Particularly on immigration, if you deport millions of people who are currently employed, that’s going to be inflationary. How do you deal with inflationary pressures and a populist economic agenda at the same time if there is a Trump two in ’25 and you’re the guy executing on Capitol Hill?

JOHNSON: Well, we make those plans methodically, and we carefully implement them. And I think you have got to be — you have got to be careful. I have spoken with President Trump about the deportation necessity. I mean, I think that’s right. By our estimates, maybe as many as 16 million illegals have come across that open border since Joe Biden took office. But the reality is, deporting them all is not a simple thing. I’m not even sure you could locate many of them. I mean, that’s part of the problem.

JAVERS: How do you practically do that?

JOHNSON: Well, that’s—

JAVERS: I mean, the size of the police force that you would have to have to do that would be enormous. The cost of that would be enormous. The logistics of that would be enormous.

JOHNSON: It would.

JAVERS: The legal fight around it would be epic.

JOHNSON: It would. And the point is, so the theory in this is probably different than the actual application of it. And that’s what we will have to sift through. Look, I think this is doing untold damage to the country. It’s catastrophic what the open border has done to us. And I don’t need to recount all the parade of horribles with this group, because you know it. But we’re going to be dealing with this for decades to come. And it is a nation-changing, nation-shifting kind of problem. And we will have to deal with it and develop responses as we go.

JAVERS: The other thing we have seen with the rise of economic populism on the right is this idea that — you talked about Republicans years ago, and the idea was, we’re with the job creators, we’re with the CEOs, we’re with the big companies, we want to help them thrive and grow. Now you see a movement on the right economically which says, hey, wait, a second. These CEOs, in terms of the culture wars, are not with us, the Republican base, necessarily. They’re jamming maybe cultural values down our throats that we don’t like. CEOs are not our natural ally. In many cases, they are our enemy. You have seen Target, Disney, Anheuser-Busch, all the companies that you can list, targeted by the conservative movement. That’s something very new for CEOs like we have in the room here to hear from the Republican Party. Do you feel like you need to build a bridge to those CEOs of those targeted companies? Do you feel like the Republican Party has gone too far into targeting individual companies, individual CEOs?

JOHNSON: Well, I think, in many ways, it was a righteous response. I mean, I think what happened is, a lot of the corporations went too far. The pendulum swung too far, and I think some tough lessons were learned by some of the biggest companies in America. And that is that to be a good corporate citizen you don’t have to wade into the culture war issues. It doesn’t seem to be a smart business proposition. What we need to do is go back to the fundamentals, I think, and take care of customers’ needs and desires and kind of stay in your lane. I just think it’s good business practice. It’s — I think that’s advisable going forward. Look, it depends on how you define populism. If you look it up in the dictionary, by one definition, it is appealing to the needs and desires of ordinary people. That’s not a bad thing. That’s what we’re for. And we’re for hardworking people, hardworking families, who are having a very difficult time right now. And there’s a lot of unrest. There’s a lot of angst in the country. People are angry about a lot of things. I mean, if I was a corporate CEO, I would be looking for less things to anger them about. But far be it for us to give advice. I just think that the market probably drives a lot of that, and we have learned some tough lessons, right?

JAVERS: Another target of economic populists is often the Federal Reserve. As a leader in Washington, where do you stand on just the concept of the Federal Reserve? Back to the first principles, the independence of the Federal Reserve, do you think it should be politically independent? Or do you think a reelected President Trump should feel free to fire Jay Powell and install somebody who will lower interest rates or do what the president wants?

JOHNSON: I have always had concerns about the Fed as an institution itself. It is manipulation of the markets at some level. And I understand why it was created and what the idea behind it is. But they have been wrong on many occasions and wrong in recent years. I had Chairman Powell come and address probably late 2019 or maybe early 2020, before COVID. I was the chair of the Republican Study Committee, the largest caucus in Congress, largest caucus of conservatives. And we had all the fiscal hawks in the room. And I had Chairman Powell there. And he gave a quick update on the economy and spoke for 10 or 15 minutes and never mentioned the federal debt, by way of example. And all the hands went up for the Q&A. And I said: “Well, Mr. Chairman, I can anticipate what they’re about to ask you. You didn’t mention the debt.” And I don’t remember his exact quote, but Chairman Powell said something to the effect of:  Well, I’m just — I think too much emphasis is placed on the federal debt. Wrong room to say that in. This is the — all the fiscal hawks. And they’re — I could see the steam coming out of the ears of my colleagues. They told us inflation was going to be transitory and all these things. And I think some mistakes have been made. I have some concerns about it. Should it be a completely independent body and immune from politics? Probably. But I think that — I think a lot of attention has to be paid with their activities and the jurisdiction they have and the broad influence they have on the markets.

JAVERS: So, would you advise a reelected President Trump to Jay Powell?

JOHNSON: I don’t want to call for anybody’s job today, but I would say that I’m sure that will be in the — on the decision matrix. I’m sure the leadership of the Fed will be top of mind. And the president will get a lot of advice from a lot of people who are, on that subject, probably a lot more intelligent than I am.

JAVERS: Do you have anybody that you like better? Is there a short list?

JOHNSON: Oh, no. I don’t want to break news here today. No, I, there’s probably—

JAVERS: You I are on opposite sides of that tension here.

JAVERS: I’m trying to get you — I’m trying to get you to say something.

JOHNSON: Yes. Yes, I know you are.

JAVERS: Right.

JOHNSON: No, I got enough controversy as it is. I don’t need new ones.

JAVERS: Fair enough. You talk about the debt. Obviously, your caucus has a lot of fiscal hawks. But your critics will say that, when Trump was in power, we ran up the national debt, right, and there was a lot of spending, and there was tax-cutting, and that was bad for the debt. How do you answer those critics who say, everyone is concerned about the debt when they’re out of power, but, when they get in power, what they really want to do is spend money and appeal to voters?

JOHNSON: Well, I mean, that’s probably accurate over the history of the country, and in recent decades, for certain. But we have kicked the can down the road now and run out of road. I mean, we’re almost $35 trillion in debt, of course, and it’s not a sustainable trajectory. And everyone here knows it. The mandatory spending is 72 percent of the federal budget. We spend a lot of time arguing over discretionary spending and how to limit that and how to limit the size and scope of the government overall. But now it has gotten very serious. Now we’re spending our grandchildren’s finances. And they’re not going to enjoy the same liberty and opportunity and security that we have known because it simply will not be affordable. So we have to do big things. And we have to do it in a bipartisan fashion. It’s not lost on us that we’re probably beyond the days of having 35- and 40-seat majorities in Congress anymore. Because of redistricting and gerrymandering, we’re probably going to have small majorities on one side or the other for the foreseeable future. So you will need very thoughtful, very responsible members of Congress to sit around a room and arm-wrestle over this to figure out what the real answers are. We have some ideas. And we will have groups working on that. I believe we have to start in the beginning of the new Congress to address it seriously, or we will be derelict in our duty.

JAVERS: Speaking of bipartisanship, I mean, your speakership was in many ways saved by Democratic votes on the floor of the House of Representatives coming to back you and saying, no, we need to keep this current speaker in place and avoid some of the tumult that we have seen in previous months. Did that experience of getting Democratic votes to back you up as a leader change your perspective on the partisan warfare we have in Washington in any way? I mean, did you reconsider any of those members once you saw them voting for you?

JOHNSON: No, look, I’m somebody who has built a career on relationships, and I think it’s really important. We mentioned Ronald Reagan earlier. I really liked the way he did the job. He was a happy warrior. He and Speaker Tip O’Neill, Democrat at the time, everybody remembers, had a famously friendly relationship. They didn’t agree on policy, almost any of it, but they didn’t hate one another. And when I was a freshman in Congress, in the 115th Congress of 2017, I authored a document called the Commitment to Civility. And it’s just a one-page, simple statement, a summary statement, basically restating the golden rule, that we would treat one another with dignity and respect. And even though I’m a — by some estimates, a hardcore conservative, I’m not mad at anybody who’s not, right? And so we got every member of my freshman class to sign the Commitment to civility, 50 — well 52 out of 53 members, I think, signed on. A few months later, Steve Scalise was — there was an assassination attempt on the baseball field. We all remember the tragedy. And, after that, Speaker Ryan came to me and he said, hey, that freshman class project about civility, you ought to make that Congress-wide. So, we did. And we went to leaders and luminaries on both sides, and people from John Lewis to Kevin McCarthy, and everybody signed on. And 170 or so, I think, members ultimately signed on. We were advancing the idea, the very simple idea, that we’re not going to agree with one another all the time, but we still have to regard one another as colleagues and not enemies. And so I have just been trying to implement that, and within my own team and in my own camp, but also across the aisle. And we’re not going to agree on a lot of policy, increasingly so, but we can respect one another. And I just think it’s really important part of the job.

JAVERS: I want to ask you a little bit about some of the news of the day. We saw this historic conviction of former President Trump last week in New York. You called that a banana republic trial. And I wonder if, as we watch the Hunter Biden trial unfold this week, is that also a banana republic trial?

JOHNSON: I haven’t been able to watch any of that yet. We will see. I hope not. Look, I think what happened in Manhattan was a travesty. And I say that as a former litigator, somebody who was in federal courts for 20 years litigating high-profile cases. I don’t — I — what happened there was unprecedented. The charges were illegitimate, in my view. They targeted a political opponent. They used the judicial system to do it. The entire case is based upon the testimony of a known perjurer, I mean, the whole thing. And it — regardless of how I feel about it or any of us, I’m telling you, the American people are upset about it. As of Saturday, I have traveled and done political events in 118 cities and 29 states in the last six months. And everywhere I go, East Coast, West Coast, Upstate New York, Deep South, it doesn’t matter, the sentiment is the same. People are losing their faith in our institutions because they see this. They see the politicization or the weaponization of the judicial system itself. And as a constitutional attorney and somebody who believes in our institutions and is trying to conserve the greatest nation in the history of the world, I am really concerned about that perception. If you don’t have equal justice under the law, or if the people don’t believe that you do, you lose a very important element of what is necessary to maintain a system of government like ours, a constitutional republic. I think that’s the threat.

JAVERS: Are you saying that’s the perception, or is it a reality?

JOHNSON: Well, I think it’s both.

JAVERS: I mean, so, on the one hand, is the system biased in favor of President Biden when it comes to the Donald Trump trial, but somehow not biased in favor of him when it comes to the trial of his own son?

JOHNSON: Well, I don’t know. We will see how the trial of his son plays out. But you can make an argument there that, I mean, yes, he had a fair jury that’s been selected? I don’t know. We will see. I haven’t had time to dial in on that. But I can tell you that I think it’s reality and perception as it pertains to the case in Manhattan that it should never have been brought. And I think every legal analyst, every one that I have talked to and most that have been on television, right and left, have acknowledged, if it was not Donald Trump, those charges would not have been brought and this would not have been pursued. And that’s the problem at the end of the day.

JAVERS: You went to the Trump trial to show your support for the former president. Obviously, you think that was an appropriate thing to do. Would it also be appropriate for President Biden to go to the Hunter Biden trial and show his support for Hunter Biden?

JOHNSON: Well, Dr. Jill Biden is sitting on the front row, and with the motorcade and the Secret Service and the whole thing. I mean, so…

JAVERS: Sure. But an elected — an elected official like yourself going to show support for somebody who’s on trial, do you think that would be appropriate for the president of the United States?

JOHNSON: It’s his son. I’m sure I wouldn’t complain about that. I didn’t go as speaker of the House. I happened to be in Manhattan raising money the night before, and it was actually on a whim. I called to — it occurred to me he was going to be back in court the next morning. And so I just made a call. And we arranged it last-minute. It was spontaneous. It was my idea. It wasn’t his. And I just wanted to go and say, not as speaker of the House, but as an individual and an officer of the court, by the way, that this is offensive to us, and this is not who we are as Americans, and that we have got to protect and preserve our system of justice.

JAVERS: That’s interesting that it was your idea to go because there’s been a lot of reporting that suggests that Trump and the people around him were trying to rally support, to get political figures to show up for him. Are you saying that nobody from the Trump team asked you guys to — or you personally to do that?

JOHNSON: No, I mean that, quite literally, it was about 10:15 at night the night before. I called one of his assistants was with him. And I said, the president’s back in court tomorrow, right? I have been a little busy. I hadn’t been following it. The president’s back in court tomorrow, right? Well, I’m a few blocks away, it just occurs to me. Maybe I will show up. Well, come to Trump Tower. That’s how it happened. It was spontaneous. I guess I’m breaking that news. I don’t know. It was my idea.

JAVERS: Yes. The former Speaker Kevin McCarthy said that every American should accept the election results in the fall. Do you agree with that?

JOHNSON: Well, I hope so. That’s the intention. I agree with the sentiment. I mean, we absolutely have to make sure that it will be a free and fair election. And I trust and hope and believe there will be, so yes.

JAVERS: If it is a fair election and Biden wins, will you vote to certify the Biden victory?

JOHNSON: Of course. If it’s a fair election, yes, of course. I mean, that’s our responsibility. That’s how our system works. And, as I said, I’m — I believe in the institutions. And we have to preserve it, so yes.

JAVERS: So you think Republicans generally will vote to certify a Biden win? Because there’s been some question about whether there are any circumstances in which Republicans would vote that way, given that it is on near-certainty that former President Trump, if defeated, will say again that there was some kind of fraud in this election.

JOHNSON: Listen, we hope that it’s a just and fair and free election. There’s a lot of work being done across the country in the various states to ensure that that’s true. We hope there’s not fraud. We hope there’s not illegals voting and all the rest. And we’re doing everything we can to make sure that happens. Look, we’re the rule of law team. I mean, we believe in the rule of law. It’s one of the seven core principles that I articulated earlier. I believe that the system that we have is the greatest in the world. It’s not perfect. But we’re the last, best hope of man on the Earth, as Reagan also used to remind us. And we have to preserve it. And the peaceful transfer for power is a fundamental precept of our nation. And so, yes, we will defend it at every turn and hope and pray that we have an election that can be trusted. And I hope that’s true.

JAVERS: Give us a sense of how the election is playing out in the House of Representatives. Are you going to be speaker of the House again in 2025?

JOHNSON: That’s my intention. I mean, I think continuity is important. We’re laying the groundwork for a very aggressive first 100 days that I think would please most of the people in this room, because we have specific plans on how to unleash the economy again and turn the engines back on, so to speak. And there’s lots of elements to that. But we’re very carefully planning and developing that right now. It begins with the use of the budget reconciliation process, which will be a big part of this, and also with our plans to dial back the regulatory onslaught that’s been crushing so many industries and make the tax cuts permanent and many other things. And so we’re implementing that. It’ll be ready to go. And I think continuity and leadership is — would be an important principle.

JAVERS: You mentioned tax cuts. There’s been some on the economic populist side of the argument who say, you know what, a corporate rate that’s low is not necessarily a priority for economic conservatives anymore, because, again, these corporate elites don’t share our cultural values. If it comes down to it, we will trade an increase in the corporate rate in order to keep the personal rates down. Where do you stand on that debate? I mean, I’m assuming you would say we need to keep the entirety of the Trump tax cuts in place. But if push comes to shove and you have to choose one or the other, which is your priority?

JOHNSON: I don’t intend to choose. I think we need to do both. And I think you can do that if, at the same time, you’re dialing back the regulatory state and you’re doing your best to reduce mandatory and discretionary spending. And there are ideas on how to do that. So I think you have to spur economic growth. And the best way to do that is to bring the taxes down. That’s a fundamental precept of our philosophy. And I think we have proven that it works.


RELATED ARTICLES

READ ARTICLE

IBM’s Artificial Intelligence Strategy Is Fantastic, But AI Also Cut 30% Of Its HR Workforce

April 6, 2019

Rometty recently spoke at a CNBC event titled “@WORK TALENT + HR: Building the workforce of the future.” It’s her comments that got me thinking about the impact that artificial intelligence is going to have on an organization’s HR strategy and employee population.

READ ARTICLE
READ ARTICLE

The new way your boss can tell if you’re about to quit your job

April 11, 2019

In a recent CNBC interview, chief executive Ginni Rometty said that thanks to AI, the tech and consulting giant can predict with 95 percent accuracy the employees who are likely to leave in the next six months.

READ ARTICLE
READ ARTICLE

HR’s newest mission: Building a culture of trust

April 3, 2019

Trust is a critical component to creating a happy and effective workplace, Andrew Ross Sorkin, co-anchor of CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” said Tuesday at CNBC’s @Work Talent and HR event in New York City.

READ ARTICLE