WASHINGTON -- Rep. Don Young doesn't attend many big public events in Washington, so his presence was notable Thursday afternoon at a Republican rally that drew thousands of people who oppose the health care legislation scheduled for a vote this weekend in the House of Representatives.
"I've been a big supporter of tea parties and public interest in government," Young said of his attendance at the rally, staged by Republicans and organizations with ties to the conservative Tea Party movement. "I have quite a few Alaskans here that are interested in where we're going and which way we're headed."
The crowd on the west side of the Capitol chanted, "Kill the bill!" and rallied around the chief spokeswoman for the movement, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. Thursday's rally was organized by Bachmann, who appeared on Fox News Channel this week to encourage turnout for what she billed the "Super Bowl of freedom."
But until late Wednesday, the health care protest wasn't an official, sanctioned event for House Republicans, who continue to struggle with how to embrace the grass-roots Tea Party movement that has sprung up in the wake of President Obama's election last year. On Wednesday, it was rebranded a "House Call," and many top House Republican leaders decided to attend, including the House minority leader, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio.
That party disarray flared in recent weeks, when former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin endorsed a conservative third-party candidate over the Republican nominee in a congressional race in New York. The Republican dropped out and a Democrat won the race, exposing some of the fissures between the Republican Party's mainstream wing and a passionate and motivated conservative wing of supporters who see political figures such as Palin and Bachmann as their standard bearers.
Although they lost the House seat in New York, Republicans on Tuesday night took over the governor's mansions in two states -- New Jersey and Virginia. Young said he saw Tuesday's elections as a warning to Democrats.
"I think the elections showed Tuesday night that there should be a concern out there, because too much too soon never does the right thing. We showed this Tuesday that the (Republican) party's still got a lot of power," he said.
Young himself almost never holds press conferences and rarely shows up at such events -- as a practice, he doesn't attend the president's annual State of the Union speech, for example. But he said he was compelled to show because Thursday's rally was "about the people."
"They've sat back too long without participating in the government process," he said of the crowd. "And this type of thing is good, because it gets people ginned up to at least ask questions."
"This country's in bad shape right now," Young said after the rally, a sentiment echoed by many in the crowd. "That's because we're not producing, we're buying oil from abroad, we've got these pie-in-the-sky policy changes that may work someday, but let's do it in a gradual way, but no, they want to do it right now. We have a high unemployment rate and we have this huge debt. I don't think we can continue what we're doing and survive in the long run."
Young, like most Republicans, is not likely to vote for the health care bill, and on Thursday afternoon he released a statement outlining his support for a Republican alternative. In the statement, Young didn't mince words when it came to what he thought of the bill Democrats would bring to a vote Saturday. "Unfortunately, this health care bill before us now is a bit like bobbing for apples in an outhouse," he said. "The harder you look, the more waste you find!"