‘I will take the devil I know,’ don’t know what Biden will do

Robert Johnson

Olivia Michael | CNBC

Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson told CNBC on Wednesday he’s viewing the election between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden through the lens of being a businessman. 

“Where I come out as a businessman, I will take the devil I know over the devil I don’t know anytime of the week,” Johnson said on “Squawk Box.” 

Johnson, when pressed, refused to outright endorse Trump, instead saying as a longtime corporate executive he knows how the president will react to important issues of the day such as coronavirus and he does not have a handle on Biden would run the country.

“I know what President Trump has done and what he’s said he will do. I don’t know what Vice President Biden has said he will do other than masks, listen to the scientists,” the 74-year-old Johnson said. He suggested the coronavirus response should weigh the tradeoffs of “pandemic safety” versus “economy growth.” 

By contrast, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has previously said “the path of the U.S. economic recovery will depend in large part on our success in containing the virus.” 

Johnson has been a big Democratic donor over the years but also has spoken positively about Trump’s economic policy. In 2016, he said he declined a position in Trump’s Cabinet, saying it was not due to politics but because he could not deal with government red tape. 

Johnson said the American people were the big losers in Tuesday night’s first presidential debate, saying the free-for-all was a waste of 90 minutes. He repeatedly suggested he didn’t learn enough about Biden in the debate. 

“What I had hoped he would do would be a reasonable, relaxed balance, if you will, in a debate where he would talk about specific policies, particularly as it impacts Black Americans,” said Johnson, founder and chairman of investment firm The RLJ Cos.

From a business standpoint only, not from a racial injustice standpoint, Johnson reiterated that it’s better for corporate executives to know what they’re getting in a president rather trying to guess.

“I would rather know who I’m going to deal with in the White House. I’m going to know what regulatory decisions they’re going to make. What fiscal policy decisions, what monetary policies they’re going to make than to be taking a chance, particularly when you have the turbulence of a pandemic,” Johnson said. 

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