Congressman Young, brushing off backlash, cheers Biden’s signing of infrastructure bill

A screenshot of a live video shows people standing around the president who is sitting at a desk outside.
Rep. Don Young had a hot-mic moment with President Biden at the signing ceremony for the infrastructure bill. (Screenshot of C-SPAN video)

Alaska Congressman Don Young, giving no heed to right-wing Republicans calling him a traitor to the party, was at the White House Monday to watch President Biden sign the trillion-dollar infrastructure bill. 

Young, in a blue overcoat and leaning on a cane, ribbed Biden about being long-winded on a gusty, brisk day.

“We were wondering when you were going to stop for a moment. We damn near froze to death,” he told the president.

Young was one of 13 House Republicans to vote for the infrastructure bill last week. They’re all getting backlash, but Young said in an interview that his office hasn’t taken any threatening calls. 

“I’m never worried about any threat. Never have been. Never will be,” said Young, who is 88 and the most senior member of the House.

Young said he voted for the bill because Alaska and the country need infrastructure.

“This has never been about Biden. It’s about what’s best for America,” he said.

RELATED: Highways, ferries and more: What the federal infrastructure bill will fund in Alaska

Young also dispelled rumors that he would step aside next year in favor of a like-minded, younger candidate: Nicholas Begich III. Young said he doesn’t know where those rumors come from. Someday, he said, he’ll decide not to run, or God will decide that for him. 

“We don’t live forever. But right now, I want to be in the majority again,” he said. “I want to be able to do the job as I’ve done in the past, and I’m going to continue to do. And I’m excited about it.”

Young on Monday named veteran political consultant Art Hackney and communications professional Matt Shuckerow as campaign advisors. He also named state Sen. Josh Revak, R-Anchorage, as his campaign chairman. Alaska Republicans sometimes suggest Revak as a likely successor to Young, so having him on the re-election team quells rumors.

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As for the cane, Young said he has back pain, which he hopes doctors can fix. In the halls of the Capitol, he’s been relying on a wheelchair lately.

“On occasion, yes. Because long distances — it does hurt,” he said, adding that he wonders why anyone would have a problem with that. “I mean, are they really disrespecting the less fortunate? Or the handicapped?”

More than most Republicans, Young has availed himself of proxy voting, a pandemic rule that allows another member of Congress to cast his vote. Young’s done that on 14 days this year.

Challenger Begich calls that surprising, since Young said the rule was “flagrantly unconstitutional” when Democrats adopted it.

RELATED: Alaska’s congressman missed votes last week. He could’ve voted remotely but he doesn’t believe in it.

Young now says he finds proxy voting useful when he’s in Alaska, and he said he uses it more than others because his district is so far from the Capitol.

RollCall reported in September that Young has missed markups in the Transportation Committee for two years. Markups are meetings where committee members vote on amendments to legislation. Begich called Young out for that.  

“With Alaska only having one seat in the House, it’s critical that our representative be fully present,” Begich said in an email.

Young spokesman Zack Brown said Young takes his committee responsibilities seriously. He said the congressman uses his committee assignments to move bills that “genuinely benefit Alaska.”

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She's @lruskin on Twitter. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz

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