How exactly did Rep. Don Young and Douglas Brinkley get off on the wrong foot in the House Natural Resources Committee hearing Friday?
Was it when the Alaska Republican called the historian’s testimony “garbage?” Or was it when Brinkley talked back? From that point, it was on — a verbal smackdown that startled the most jaded staffers. [See the amazing C-SPAN video, below]
Backdrop: Brinkley, a Rice University professor, wants President Obama to grant the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge national monument status, which would block efforts to drill for oil and gas there. Young supports drilling.
After Brinkley’s testimony, Young was given his time to comment, calling the debate an “exercise in futility” where both sides have mad up their minds, “and the, I call it garbage, Dr. Rice, that comes from the mouth —”
Brinkley broke in to correct: “Dr. Brinkley. Rice is a university.”
It’s highly unusual for a witness to interrupt a congressman. Young roared: “I’ll say anything I want to say! You just be quiet!”
Brinkley: “You don’t own me! I pay your salary. . . I work for the private sector, you work for the taxpayers.”(A committee staffer sitting behind Young goggled her eyes in astonishment, as you can see in the video.)
Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), the committee chairman tried to gavel things back to order, gently warning Brinkley that he’d get his time.
Brinkley, seething: “He called me Mr. Rice. I needed to correct the record.”
Hastings defended his colleague’s error: “From time to time, we make faux pas. Nobody is perfect here. But to interrupt breaks the comity of what we’re trying. . . We’re going to have disagreements here, you’ve already seen that.”
Brinkley: “He called me Mr. Rice, and garbage. . .You would do that if someone did that to your name.”
Hastings: “Mr. Brinkley, I’ve been called a lot of things in my time.”
Brinkley tried to work the ref: “I wouldn’t call you that. You’re a good congressman.”
Hastings, not buying it: “Mr. Brinkley, do you want to continue sitting at this panel? Then please follow the rules.”
Young resumed, virtually spitting his words: “What I am suggesting, Mr. Brinkley. . .” And then went on for a few minutes, calling the prof an ivory-tower elite who doesn’t really know Alaska and describing the Arctic plain as a desolate, “nothing” kind of place that most Alaskans, he said, want to see drilled. The congressman also chided Brinkley for an earlier comment about Young’s absence from the room during his testimony — he was at a vote — and they kind of got into it again: “Don't mention my name!” Young hissed.
So Brinkley didn’t. But he got his swipes in indirectly later in the hearing, contradicting statements from “the congressman who’s yet again left — doesn’t stay, blows smoke and then leaves.” That got a stronger reprimand from Hastings, who told the historian he was “disrespectful.”
A spokesman for Young later called the episode “a publicity stunt by Mr. Brinkley in order to sell books.” Witnesses, he said, “are invited to testify before Congress to answer questions and provide insight, not repeatedly interrupt.”
Brinkley was unapologetic when we reached him, calling Young “a crazy zealot for molesting the refuge” and saying he wished he “could have gone mano-a-mano” with him. “I was hoping for the chance to get into a heated debate with him, but, alas, it’s hard in that forum.”