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Republican Rep. Don Young Sees A 'Road Back To Greatness'


We've been talking about the government shutdown which comes on the anniversary of Donald Trump's inauguration as president. Thousands of people took to the streets today as they did a year ago in women's marches in cities like New York, Houston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles and here in Washington, D.C.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Hey, hey. Ho (ph), ho. Donald Trump has got to go. Hey, hey. Ho, ho.

MARTIN: To mark this day, we wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on President Trump's first year in office, speaking to people on both sides of the aisle about the president's legacy and lasting imprint so far. Earlier in the week, before the shutdown took effect, I spoke with two members of Congress about the president's first year in office. We start with Republican Don Young of Alaska, the so-called dean of the House. That's a title reserved for the longest-serving representative. It's been 45 years in Congressman Young's case. We went to his office on Capitol Hill, and I asked him for his take on Donald Trump's first year.

DON YOUNG: Well, President Trump's year has been probably more exciting. One thing though I have to stress that I've always said I don't care who the president is, the job of the Congress is to lead this nation. We've lost that over the years since 1935, when we started transferring power to the president and to the executive branch. Most people are controlled by regulatory law, not legislative law. But overall, for Alaska, with Secretary Zinke, we've undone a lot of what the presidents in the past have done. And I think it gives us more freedom and a chance to take it and improve our nation's and our state's economic bases.

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MARTIN: So let's talk a little bit about productivity. I mean, the president has talked and tweeted about a lot of legislative accomplishments, but really, there's only been one - the tax bill. Do you consider this a productive first year?

YOUNG: Well, I do because that's not the only one. You know, the CRAs - I think there's 11 of those - which are very, very important undoing other laws. And you've got to remember...

MARTIN: You mean regulatory actions or executive orders?

YOUNG: Executive orders, regulatory actions that were unconstitutional and, very frankly, that we had to do it because otherwise they could undo it. And it could have been done again by another president in the future. So I think that site is very productive. And you look at the stock market where it was before, where it is now. And general attitude, regardless of what you in the media may think, the general attitude in the public's arena think that this country is on the road back to greatness again.

MARTIN: Last year, legislation passed to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, which is something that has been a goal of yours - if I have this right - for your entire career.

YOUNG: Not entire, 37-and-a-half years.

MARTIN: Thirty-seven-and-a-half years, I stand corrected.

YOUNG: That's right. But that's a pretty good close deal.

MARTIN: It was attached to the tax bill, which was controversial. You were part of the reconciliation committee to reach agreement between the House and Senate versions of the bill. And I just have to ask you how it felt when it finally passed after you've had this goal for so long?

YOUNG: Well, it was a happy feeling. I have to say that because I, you know, I've argued this so long that I knew I was correct. And my M.O. is - and I've said it many times - that perseverance overcomes intelligence any day of the year. If you decide to do something, you can get it done if you stick with it.

MARTIN: So let's talk about the politics of the moment, particularly as somebody who's been here for a long time and has seen a lot of - has served him a lot of people in a lot of different environments. I mean, there are some people who call the atmosphere up here toxic. Do you think that's true? Do you use that word?

YOUNG: It's not toxic in the sense that it's toxic because we're not getting things done. The chairman used to run the Congress, not the president, not the speaker. Now, everything's run through Nancy's office or run through Ryan's office. And in doing so, it becomes a party policy instead of solving a problem. There is no problem that's a Republican problem or a Democrat problem or a progressive problem, depends on what you want to call them. But there is a problem, and no one can solve it 100 percent their way. They have to do it together or it'll never get solved. And what's happened now, it has to be 100 percent Republican or 100 percent Democrat. No wants to sit down and say, OK, well, how can we solve the problem? You have to give up a little bit. I have to give up a little bit. The problem's solved.

MARTIN: I was going to ask you about that because you've got big pieces of legislation only being passed by one side. Is this the new normal?

YOUNG: Well, I can't say it's the new normal forever because it may change. Right now, it's normal. And it was a - it's a, again, a result, I think - and I'm very critical of the media because we do not get news anymore. We get opinions. It's opinionated information. And so they don't really look or read or understand that there is another side to the issue. And again, we are a reflection - the Congress is a reflection of the people they represent. That's all we are. And if the public has this feeling we can't work together, the Congress is not going to work together.

MARTIN: And what about President Trump's role in this? Do you think he has a role in this? Some people see him as the symptom. Some people see him as the cause. How do you see him?

YOUNG: Well, I see him as an individual that, very frankly, would make me a lot happier if he didn't tweet or Twitter or whatever you call that. I don't do that, by the way. So, you know, I don't know. I think, very frankly, he's doing a great job. He was not my candidate. He knows that. But he's my president. I'm not going to try to crucify him for every little thing he says.

MARTIN: That's Congressman Don Young, the dean of the House. He was kind enough to host us in his office on Capitol Hill. Congressman Young, thanks so much for speaking with us.

YOUNG: My pleasure. Good to have you here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.