John Dingell Jr., the longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history, said he plans to retire at the end of his current term.
“The time has come,” the Michigan Democrat told the Southern Wayne County Regional Chamber of Commerce today in Southgate, Michigan.
Dingell, 87, has served alongside 11 presidents. He has been a member of the House of Representatives for 58 years, which is longer than President Barack Obama and about half of the current House members have been alive.
Dingell has been a staunch ally of U.S. automakers and a supporter of national health insurance and oversight of government agencies. He presided over House proceedings that led to the passage of the 2010 health-care law. He wielded the same gavel he used during the debate over the creation of Medicare more than 40 years earlier.
He’s also been a critic of the slowing pace of congressional action.
“This Congress has been a great disappointment to everyone,” Dingell said today. “There’s going to be a lot of blaming and finger pointing back and forth, but all of us share fault.”
Obama, in a statement released today, called Dingell “one of the most influential legislators of all time.” In addition to Medicare, the congressman worked to pass the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, Obama said.
Dingell is the latest of a number of longtime House members who announced their retirements in recent weeks, including Democrats Carolyn McCarthy of New York, James Moran of Virginia, and Henry Waxman and George Miller of California.
Senior Republicans planning to leave Congress early next year include Doc Hastings of Washington state, Frank Wolf of Virginia, Tom Latham of Iowa and Buck McKeon of California.
Dingell was chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee from 1981 to 1995. The panel has jurisdiction over such issues as energy, health care and telecommunications. Its hearing room in the Rayburn House office building now bears his name, an honor announced by Republican House Speaker John Boehner in 2013.
The congressman drew praise from House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican.
“From spearheading the recovery of the auto industry, to ensuring our drug-safety laws are complete, to updating our pipeline safety standards, he and I have had a strong bipartisan partnership,” Upton said in a statement. “And, on the occasion we may disagree, we’ve never been disagreeable.”
Dingell’s namesake father was a congressman before him and Dingell grew up in the halls of Congress.
He was a House page during the 1930s, and in 1941 was in the House when President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his Pearl Harbor speech to Congress, declaring the Dec. 7 attack a “date which will live in infamy.”
Dingell served in the Army during World War II and is now, along with Republican Representative Ralph Hall of Texas, one of just two World War II veterans remaining in Congress. In 1955, the elder Dingell died and his son won a special election to succeed him in Congress.
Dingell “is the living embodiment of a lifetime public servant,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.
His longevity has made him a part of the institution. At a 2005 event honoring Dingell’s 50-year anniversary in the House, former President Bill Clinton said “presidents come and presidents go and John Dingell goes on forever.”
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