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Rep. Mike Johnson On The RNC, The Coronavirus And The Storms Facing Louisiana

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Louisiana is bracing for a potentially catastrophic storm to hit. Hurricane Laura is expected to come ashore along the Texas/Louisiana border late tomorrow. And forecasters say it is getting stronger as it bears down on the Gulf Coast. Well, our next guest has taken to Twitter to warn his constituents, please take the necessary precautions to keep you and your loved ones safe. That was Congressman Mike Johnson, Republican of Louisiana. And he is on the line with us from his district.

Congressman, welcome. Hey there.

MIKE JOHNSON: Mary Louise, thanks. It's great to be with you, even under these circumstances.

KELLY: Indeed. Well, I want to get your take on a couple of matters, but let's start with the storms. First, Tropical Storm Marco, now Hurricane Laura, which I gather is projected to make a direct hit across your district. Is that right?

JOHNSON: It looks like we're in the path of the bull's-eye, unfortunately. And, you know, Louisiana is filled with very tough, resilient people. We're experts at disaster recovery. But I'll tell you frankly we've had about our fill, and this one looks like it'll be a Category 3 when it comes onshore - pretty serious storms. I guess this is a prayer request for everyone.

KELLY: I note that Hurricane Katrina made landfall 15 years ago this Saturday - amazing to think it's been 15 years. How much is that still on people's minds? How much is it on your mind as this next one bears down?

JOHNSON: The memory of Katrina here is ubiquitous. We can never forget that one. In many ways, we're still recovering and have not fully recovered from that. So there are times when people don't take the storms and the warnings as seriously. We do, post-Katrina. People understand that this can be a very serious event, and I do believe our folks are taking this one seriously.

KELLY: Well, we wish you luck in riding this one out and that you do all manage to stay safe. I know I'm talking to you in the middle of what is also a big political week. You've got the Republican convention underway. In terms of the message, the president and his team had promised that it would be a convention of optimism and of hope, and there's been a lot of criticism from Republicans that Democrats painted a dark picture of America. So I do want to ask about the speech the president's son gave last night, Donald Trump Jr., who - he painted a pretty dark picture. He framed the election as a choice between church, work and school and rioting, looting and vandalism. What did you make of that?

JOHNSON: Well, the idea last night that was repeated and reiterated over and over is that this party and this president are projecting strength in America's greatness and our core principles. And many Americans do see that those are under great challenge right now. And we see, by contrast, that Joe Biden and his party are presenting a weakness right now. They - in our view, they're cowering to the far-left voices in the party, and that is a dark and gloomy picture - a prospect of socialism in the country. Those are not talking points. That's what real people feel out in the district.

KELLY: But again, those words - rioting, looting and vandalism - you don't think that paints a dark picture?

JOHNSON: I think it's reality. I think that's what people have seen play out on their television screens for months now, and it is unsettling. It makes people feel unsafe and unstable. And we are trying to put forth the message that this is about the promise of America. You have to call out the lawlessness and the riots and all the rest because that's just what people have seen with their own eyes. And I think it was a political mistake for the DNC to try to avoid that.

KELLY: One topic touched on frequently throughout the night and I imagine the rest of this week was the pandemic and how the president has responded to and handled it. As you know, Louisiana has been hit so hard by this. It has had among the highest per capita cases of COVID-19 - two surges in your state. How do you make the case to your constituents for why to reelect a president who has presided over a pandemic that has hit them so hard?

JOHNSON: Well, it has hit us hard in Louisiana. But that's why it was such an impact to have one of my constituents - a surgeon, a medical school administrator, a COVID-19 survivor himself, Dr. Ghali - who spoke last night. And he said in his own words that President Trump cleared away the red tape and truly moved mountains to save lives. You know, he's taken...

KELLY: He's presided over 180,000 Americans dead of this.

JOHNSON: Any president would have. You know, the idea that this is somehow the fault of political official is nonsense. This affected the whole world and...

KELLY: Well, the virus isn't, but the handling is directly traceable to this administration and how it's handled it, no?

JOHNSON: This president has been hands-on from the very beginning. He took action to protect vulnerable Americans. And I think a lot of Americans, once they see a review of those facts, will agree with what the medical official from my district told the whole country last night from the podium.

KELLY: That is Louisiana Republican Mike Johnson, speaking with us from his district.

Thanks so much for your time.

JOHNSON: Thank you. God bless. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.