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A ‘tall tale’ with some truth to it: Don Young defended earmarks with a sharp edge

  • Author: Erica Martinson
  • Updated: October 30, 2017
  • Published October 30, 2017

WASHINGTON — Don Young, Alaska's sole congressman for the last four decades, has been known to get passionate at times.

That was evident in a story that emerged publicly for the first time Sunday, from the mouth of former House Speaker John Boehner, who told Politico Magazine that Young once "pinned Boehner against a wall in the House and held a 10-inch knife to his throat" during a disagreement over earmarks. (Young was pro-earmark. Boehner was not.) The story went on, "Boehner says he stared Young in the eyes and said, "F— you." (Young says this account is 'mostly true,' but notes that the two became good friends, with Boehner later serving as his best man.)"

Former House John Boehner in Las Vegas on May 12, 2016. Bloomberg photo by David Paul Morris.

The anecdote was a short passage in a 12,000-word article, wherein Boehner shared quite a few salacious stories about and opinions on fellow Republicans. But it still quickly grabbed attention and headlines, especially given Young's longtime penchant for troublemaking.

Young wasn't bothered by the story, according to his spokesman Matt Shuckerow, who shared a more detailed statement from the congressman.

"That's mostly a true story, but it's also one of those tall tales from the House floor. This was some of the friendly back-and-forth banter John and I had over a few decades, but it was never anything serious. Had it been, I'm sure you would've heard about it long before now," Young said.

"John actually loves this story, I've heard him tell it multiple times — once at my wedding in 2015 as my best man. Each and every time, that knife gets a little bigger and gets a little bit closer," he said. "One thing is true, the story always ends with an 'F' you,' " he added.

Shuckerow said he heard Boehner tell the story in 2015, when the speaker served as best man in Young's June wedding in a chapel on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Don Young in his Washington D.C. office on Thursday, June 25, 2015. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News )

Young's statement suggests that he did, in some way, brandish a knife at Boehner, but perhaps did not hold it to his throat, and it was perhaps not such a long blade.

Shuckerow said he does not believe that his boss carries a knife on his person. Guns and dangerous weapons are prohibited on Capitol grounds, but members do not have to go through security and the metal detectors that are required for all other visitors and staff.

The time-frame of the story remains unclear, though both Boehner and Young said it happened years ago. It is not clear if Boehner was speaker of the House at the time.

The magazine feature also made clear that Boehner has a history of harsh words with friends, and friendships that grew out of confrontation. Boehner also recounted a story about a curse-filled discussion with former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The two are now close friends and planning to co-chair a think tank at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

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