The Texas congresswoman — who early in her career became the first Black woman to serve Dallas in the state Senate since Reconstruction, and in Congress was the first female and first Black chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology — alluded to the push-and-pull in her speech.
“I have gone back and forth … the whole time because of the pleading and the asking, but as of January … year after next, I will step down,” Johnson said.
“There is a good reason I should stay: I am a personal friend to the president, I have gained some respect and influence,” she added. But ultimately, Johnson said, she would stick with what she told voters when she was last reelected: That this term would be her last.
“There is no Texan in the history of this state who has brought more home, and I am proud,” she said.
According to her office, she was the first nurse to be elected to the Texas House of Representatives, in 1972, and again in 1986 to the Texas Senate. Before entering politics, Johnson was the first Black female chief psychiatric nurse at the VA hospital in Dallas.
Tributes to Johnson began pouring in after she made her announcement. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement that Johnson “has been a dedicated and highly effective leader on behalf of Dallas area families and the entire nation for her thirty years in the Congress and nearly 50 years in public service,” and said “her leadership and friendship will be missed by many in the Congress.”
Johnson said Saturday that few of her years in Congress were spent in the majority — an experience that taught her to “work across party lines to get things done.”
Praising some of her Republican colleagues in Congress, she said, “As much as we trash the names of some of the Republicans, they were some of the same ones that helped me be successful.”
Tributes to her came from both sides of the political aisle. Rep. Frank D. Lucas (R-Okla.), who served with Johnson on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said in a statement, “There is no one I would rather have as my counterpart across the aisle.”
“EBJ, as I affectionately call her, is a true public servant and she cares deeply about supporting American science,” Lucas said. “While we don’t always agree on the best way to do that, we are usually able to find common ground and work together to pass strong, bipartisan policies. She’s an old-school legislator who cares more about results than headlines, and I respect that deeply.”
Johnson referred to herself as “old school” in 2017 in comments about sexual assault that sparked controversy in the context of the sexual assault allegations that were beginning to emerge against Hollywood magnate Harvey Weinstein.
“I grew up in a time when it was as much the woman’s responsibility as it was a man’s — how you were dressed, what your behavior was,” Johnson told a Texas NBC affiliate when asked to weigh in on the allegations made against Weinstein. “I’m from the old school that you can have behaviors that appear to be inviting. It can be interpreted as such. That’s the responsibility, I think, of the female.”
She later told The Post in a statement, “I do acknowledge that my comments regarding behavior and attire come from an old school perspective that has shaped how some of us understand the issue, but that does not detract from the fact that criminals need to be held accountable for their actions.
“I will never condone those who feel they can abuse the power of their positions to sexually assault and harass women, and I will always encourage victims to come forward so that we can hold these criminals accountable,” Johnson added.
Several candidates have already expressed interest in running for Johnson’s seat in 2022. She said Saturday that she would endorse someone in the race to replace her — preferably a woman.
Eugene Scott contributed to this report.