House Republican causes stir claiming female lawmaker ‘doesn’t know a damn thing’

Greg Nash

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) was forced to apologize on Thursday after he lashed out at Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) in unusually personal terms during House floor debate late in the evening.

During consideration of a government spending package for 2018, Young was offering an amendment regarding wildlife management on national preserves in his state of Alaska.

After Jayapal, a liberal freshman representing Seattle, spoke in opposition to his amendment, Young snapped that she “doesn’t know a damn thing what she’s talking about.”


He then questioned Jayapal’s motives by accusing her of parroting talking points from a special interest group, rather than expressing her true opinion.

“What you said was really nonsense. It was written by an interest group, not yourself. Maybe your staff is affiliated with the Humane Society or some other group. And I’m disappointed,” Young said.

Young, 84, proceeded to address his 51-year-old colleague as a “young lady.”

“You may not know me, young lady. But I’m deeply disturbed,” Young said.

At that point, Jayapal had listened to enough.

“The gentleman has already impugned my motives by saying that I don’t ‘know a damn thing’ about what I’m talking about and he’s now called me ‘young lady,’” Jayapal interjected, asking that Young withdraw his remarks.

The House presiding officer temporarily halted proceedings. A few minutes later, Young could be seen on the C-SPAN feed crossing over to the Democratic side of the House chamber.

When Young returned, he asked to withdraw his remarks and apologized to Jayapal.

“To the lady, I do apologize. I get very defensive about my state,” Young said in a noticeably more subdued tone. “I recognize it was out of order, so I hope you accept my apology.”

“I do accept your apology,” Jayapal responded. “I thank you for it. We have obviously some work to get to know each other, but I can tell you that I care about my state as deeply as you do, and I look forward to getting to know you.”

Young has developed a reputation on Capitol Hill for his temper and brusque manner over the course of his time serving as Alaska’s sole House member since 1973.

Young is known to occasionally push reporters out of his way while walking to votes on the House floor. Reporters usually stake out the House floor entrances to speak with lawmakers making their way to and from votes.

In 2014, Young apologized for grabbing the arm of a congressional staffer who tried to prevent him from entering a side door to a House Republican Conference meeting. Members are asked not to use the door when a meeting is already in progress.

That same year, Young allegedly made threatening remarks when his Democratic challenger touched his arm backstage before a debate. “The last guy who touched me ended up on the ground dead,” Young reportedly told the candidate, Forrest Dunbar.

When later asked by Roll Call about the comment, Young replied: “There’s some truth to that.”   

And in 2015, amid a media circus after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced he wouldn’t run for Speaker, Young caused a social media stir when he pushed through a crowd of reporters and his own colleague, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.).

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