House pays tribute to late Congressman Sam Johnson on the floor

Greg Nash

House leaders from both parties paid tribute to former Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), who died at age 89 on Wednesday, holding a moment of silence on the House floor on Thursday. 

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) led the moment of silence, noting the broad bipartisan respect members have had for Johnson.

Thornberry praised Johnson — a fighter pilot in the Korean and Vietnam wars and 13-term congressman — for his dedication as a public servant, highlighting his experience as a veteran and a congressman, and the impact he made on the House. 

Before the moment of silence, Thornberry said, “He was a fighter pilot and some of those fighter pilot traits came into everything he did, from how fast he drove across the highways of Texas, to the way he approached legislation.” 

“Sam was a veteran of the Korean conflict and, of course, the Vietnam war. On his 25th combat mission in Vietnam, he was shot down, severely injured, and spent the next seven years as a prisoner of war in the prison known as the Hanoi Hilton,” he continued. 

Thornberry also spoke of the “hellish conditions” that Johnson and his fellow prisoners endured, fighting to survive during their service. 

 “Madam Speaker, I know of no one in the house who was more universally admired across the chamber than Sam Johnson. He sacrificed much, but always with courage and good humor and deep, deep love of country,” he added. 

Johnson served as a Texas representative until 2019, and for a time was acting chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. 

After the moment of silence, other congressman spoke about the memories they shared with the late representative. 

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) praised Johnson and reminisced on his friendship with the Texas Republican, applauding his service to his country. He added that while his captors during his time as a POW “probably broke every bone in his body,” they “never broke” Johnson. 

“Sam and I got to be close friends. … The conversations and just the understanding of a giant that we served with, someone who served our country, spent seven years in the Hanoi Hilton,” he said on the floor. 

“I know we have some giants like John Lewis and Sam Johnson, who we got to serve with. Sam left and now is no longer with us and John still is and he is going through his own battle, and we pray for John as well,” Scalise said, in reference to Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer late last year.

“As we have our battles and debate politically, it’s good to remember the special people that get to make up this body and become part of this great institution of which we have the honor to serve,” he continued.  

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (R-Md.) said despite their differences on certain policies, he and Johnson managed to forge a strong friendship while serving together in the lower chamber, praising the late congressman for his love of the country. 

“I want to echo on his comments, although the congressman, a patriot, a hero, did not always vote with me nor I with him, we became good friends, and I shared with you and others in this body a deep respect for who he was as a person — a decent man, a patriotic man, a good man,” he said following Scalise’s remarks. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) praised Johnson’s character, calling him a “true hero,” adding that it was “an honor” to be able to serve with him. 

“It’s a sad day for all of us but an honor to serve with Sam Johnson and serve with him in the Congress. I appreciate that you mentioned him and John Lewis in the same sentence because I had the privilege and John Larson set up a hero’s night, a bipartisan hero’s night and I had the privilege of giving Sam the award that night as a true hero, and he was funny,” she said. 

“And he always beamed when he talked about Shirley and he loved the children and his son Bob, but now he is with Shirley and Bob. This is a very special person,” she added. 

Tags House of Representatives John Larson John Lewis Mac Thornberry memorial moment of silence Nancy Pelosi Sam Johnson Steny Hoyer Steve Scalise Veterans Vietnam War

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