Representative John Dingell Jr. said the partisan political climate in the U.S. House of Representatives that he’s dubbed “obnoxious” is probably here to stay.
“I am very much afraid that that’s so,” Dingell, the longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. “I’m also very much afraid that the Congress will never be able to go back.”
Dingell, 87, has served continuously in the House since he was elected to replace his late father in 1955. The Michigan Democrat announced earlier this week that he will retire from the House after this term. His wife, Debbie Dingell, said yesterday she will run in November to replace her husband in his southeast Michigan seat.
Dingell blamed a rise in partisanship on an ever-faster 24-hour news cycle and lawmakers who are less and less focused on the lawmaking part of their jobs.
“So you’ll find that when they hit Washington or getting off the plane, well, the first question they may ask the staff that meets the plane is, ‘What’s the first plane I can get back to the district?’” he said.
Dingell was chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee from 1981 to 1995, near and at the end of a period in which committees were far more influential than they are now. Starting with Newt Gingrich, who became speaker when Republicans took the House majority in 1995, power has moved from the committees to party leaders, he said.
“The speaker should be the first among equals, but not more than that,” Dingell said.
Dingell has served alongside 11 presidents.
“Probably the best political leader was -- that I served with was, I think, Lyndon Johnson,” he said. The best president he knew was probably either Franklin D. Roosevelt or his successor, Harry Truman, Dingell said. The congressman’s father served in the House when both were president.
Dingell has been a House member for 58 years, which is longer than President Barack Obama and about half of the current House members have been alive.
Obama, Dingell said, is “trying very hard.”
“He’s got an awful situation, because the Republican Party is really terribly divided, and it’s terribly divided so that they spend much of their time -- or almost all of their time -- fighting each other,” he said. “They really don’t have the time to mess with Democrats.”
“I think the staff that he has is good, but they’re not doing enough to see to it that he gets close to the Congress,” Dingell said. “They’re trying, but it’s going to take a long time to get over and get past that point. And it may take too long so that the task is -- there’s no more of the task remaining to be done by the time he’s out the door.”
Dingell’s wife, Debbie Dingell, also is a force in Michigan politics. Having served as a General Motors Co. executive for more than 30 years, she was recruited and turned down a chance to run for the Senate this year.
“She will be a great congressman with no advice and no help from me,” he said. “She’s going to be just a little giant, and she’s going to be a lot smoother and more gracious than her husband.”
Dingell said his historic career has been a “wonderful experience.”
“I’ve done a lot of wonderful things, met a lot of wonderful people, done a lot of wonderful things, saw to it that a lot of people were helped,” Dingell said. “It’s been a remarkable career.”