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BET founder Robert Johnson on Trump: 'I give the president credit for doing positive things'

Key Points
  • President Trump has done "positive things" for the economy that have greatly benefited African Americans, says Democratic businessman Robert Johnson.
  • "For African Americans, the trend continues to be favorable," says the entrepreneur who started The RLJ Cos. after selling BET in 2001.
  • Johnson, who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016, made headlines in July, and drew a gushing tweet from Trump, over praise he heaped on the president.
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BET founder: Trump has done 'positive things' for the economy

President Donald Trump has done "positive things" for the economy that have greatly benefited African Americans, said Robert Johnson, the successful Democratic businessman who started the BET television network nearly 40 years ago.

"For African Americans, the trend continues to be favorable," Johnson said Thursday on CNBC's "Squawk Box." "There used to be an old saying, 'When White America catches a cold, African Americans get pneumonia.' It's going the opposite way now. White unemployment is going down, African American unemployment is going down. That's a plus-plus that you can't argue with."

"I give the president credit for doing positive things; when I see a president doing positive things, particularly for African Americans," added Johnson, who made history as America's first black billionaire when he sold BET to Viacom in 2001. Shortly after the sale, he started the investment firm The RLJ Cos. (Johnson is no longer on the Forbes billionaires list.)

Johnson, who describes himself as a friend of the president, actually supported Hillary Clinton for the White House in 2016. Since then, Johnson has been complimentary of the Trump economy. Shortly after the election, Johnson said he turned down a position in Trump's Cabinet, not over politics but because he said he could not deal with the government red tape.

The RLJ Cos. founder made headlines in July, and drew a gushing tweet from Trump, over praise he heaped on the president in a CNBC interview, saying "I think the tax cuts clearly helped stimulate the economy. I think business people have more confidence in the way the economy is going."

During that July CNBC interview, Johnson also said the Democratic Party has "moved too far left." At the time, he stopped short of endorsing any candidate, and Thursday on "Squawk Box" he reiterated his refusal to indicate which candidate he's leaning toward in the 2020 presidential election.

However, Johnson did say, "It's time for African Americans to think in terms of their permanent interests, not being an appendage to either party, either Democrats or Republicans."

With blacks historically voting Democratic, Johnson said he would advise Trump to bring African Americans to the White House to meet with the president and other Republicans and pitch them on the GOP vision for helping them.

However, Johnson said, "I don't think it's fundamentally in the best interest of African Americans to be locked up in one party, particularly in an environment where everything is [a] zero-sum game."

By pushing both parties to address the interests of African Americans, Johnson said, "We can be the balance of power."

"What the Congressional Black Caucus said in 1971 should be the philosophy for African Americans today: 'No permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent interests,'" he concluded.

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