Does a Congressman Really Want to Sic Wolves on the Homeless?

Here are a couple things you need to know to explain the gap between the reaction inside the room and on the web.

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Photograph: Getty Images

Yes, U.S. Representative Don Young did say this to fellow House member Don Beyer: “If I introduced ’em in your district, you wouldn’t have a homeless problem anymore.” 

He was talking about wolves. 

Everybody in the congressional hearing room yesterday responded as though they knew he was joking and the Q&A went on as normal. From anybody else that would have been a shocking, even scandalous quip. The outraged headlines quickly multiplied on the web, and they mostly assumed he was serious about disposing of the homeless in a most gruesome way.

Here are a couple things you need to know to explain the gap between the reaction inside the room and on the web.

First, Young's been in Congress since 1973—longer than some of his colleagues have been alive. His constituents know him, understand him, re-elect him.

Second, the Alaska Republican was the power behind the earmark that became known as the "bridge to nowhere." It takes more than an jaw-dropping quip to cause a problem with his constituents.

Third, when it comes to the subject of wolves, the gruff guy with the bearskin-clad office wall has an axe to grind.

Here's the backstory, originally reported by Bloomberg BNA's Alan Kovski.

More than six dozen of Young’s colleagues wrote a letter this week sticking up for gray wolves and advocating for continued Endangered Species Act protection. Young, a former hunting guide, has been fighting the Endangered Species Act for years—even before a jogger was mauled to death by wolves in a remote part of Alaska in 2010

Young was trying to make a point about how dangerous it could be to have sympathy for wolves, saying he didn't think any of the names on the letter represent districts where protected wolves roam. Democrat Beyer, for instance, represents the Virginia suburbs closest to Washington, D.C., where the wolves tend not to be of the four-legged variety.

And then he said that thing about the homeless.

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