Lawmakers pay tribute to late GOP Rep. Don Young lying in state in Capitol

Greg Nash

Lawmakers on Tuesday paid tribute to the late Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the longest-serving House Republican in history, as he became one of only a handful of members of Congress to receive the honor of lying in state in the Capitol.  

After serving in the House from 1973 until his death at the age of 88 earlier this month, Young made one final visit to Statuary Hall so that his colleagues could bid farewell. 

As Alaska’s sole House member, Young built a reputation over his 49 years in Congress for delivering for his state by securing funding for projects back home and chairing the House Transportation and Natural Resources committees.    

Alaska’s two GOP senators and congressional leadership from both parties recalled Young as a fierce champion of his state with a gruff yet hardworking demeanor. 

From routinely yelling out “regular order!” during House votes he thought were dragging on too long while sitting in his usual spot in the back of the chamber to going viral for pushing his way through a crowded hallway on live television, Young was also well-known for his impatience. 

Lawmakers joked that Young would want them all to keep their eulogies about him short.  

“There’s been no other person in this chamber that has been loved, feared and respected more, all at the same time,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).   

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) similarly hailed Young as “an endearing colleague with a gruff demeanor and often a colorful vocabulary.” 

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) recalled the story of how Young once held a knife to former Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) neck during an argument over earmarks.  

Yet Boehner went on to serve as best man at Young’s 2015 wedding in the Capitol to his wife, Anne. 

“He was authentic and tough, but he was also a man with a big heart. And of course, he was a man of the people and he belonged in the people’s House,” Sullivan said. 

Sullivan joked that he and Alaska’s other GOP senator, Lisa Murkowski, always understood the true power center of their state’s delegation. 

“Even as senators, we knew our place with Congressman Don Young, dean of the House. All those Alaska delegation meetings were over in his office,” Sullivan said.  

Young died on March 18 while traveling back home to Alaska from Washington.   

Before his first election to Congress, Young served as mayor of Fort Yukon and in both the Alaska state House and Senate. 

One of Young’s first votes was to authorize the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which he often cited as “the single most important achievement in his career,” according to his official biography. 

Before House Republicans established a ban on earmarks in 2011 in response to a string of wasteful spending scandals, Young helped direct billions of dollars toward his state. 

In 2005, Young secured millions in funding for a bridge that would have connected a tiny island with the town of Ketchikan, a project that critics derided as a “bridge to nowhere.” Republicans later moved to eliminate the spending in response to the backlash.  

Democrats reinstated the use of earmarks — now branded as “community project funding” — last year with new transparency requirements. All funding requests must be posted publicly with certification from lawmakers that they don’t have any personal financial stake in the proposed projects in their districts. 

Few other members of Congress have been granted the rare honor of lying in state in the Capitol upon their deaths.

Only 18 other House members have laid in state in the Capitol. Before Young, the last House member to die in office and receive the honor was the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) in 2020.   

More recently, the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who also served in the House, laid in state in the Capitol Rotunda in January.  

President Biden paid his respects to Young on Tuesday afternoon, placing his hand on his heart and giving the sign of the cross. He touched the casket with both hands and then saluted it. 

Young was one of the 13 House Republicans who voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill last fall. 

“Don’s legacy lives on in the infrastructure projects he delighted in steering across Alaska. In the opportunities he advanced for his constituents. In the enhanced protections for Native tribes he championed. His legacy will continue in the America he loved,” Biden said in a statement upon Young’s death. 

The House further honored Young on Tuesday by holding a vote on bipartisan legislation to reauthorize Coast Guard programs named in his honor. 

“Don believed in bipartisanship. We didn’t always agree, but we’d often find a way to compromise for the good of the country,” said House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.). 

Above all, Young’s colleagues recalled how much he admired the institution of the House and genuinely wanted it to work.   

“It is also important to know that as much as he loved Alaska and Alaskans, he loved the institution. He loved the House of Representatives. And it showed. It showed in the respect that he had for his colleagues. He would be barking at you, but then he would say: ‘Let’s this make happen. Let’s make this happen for the right reasons,’” Murkowski said. 

Tags Boehner Dan Sullivan Don Young Harry Reid Joe Biden John Boehner John Lewis Kevin McCarthy Lisa Murkowski Nancy Pelosi Peter DeFazio

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