Democratic Rep. John Dingell of Michigan will have served more than 59 years in the House — 21,572 days to be precise — at the end of his current and last term.
Dingell, the longest-serving member of Congress in its history, announced yesterday that he wouldn’t seek re-election in Michigan’s 12th District near Detroit.
Dingell, 87, was first elected in December 1955, replacing his late namesake father during the first White House term of Dwight D. Eisenhower — the first of 11 presidents with whom Dingell would serve.
Dingell backed civil-rights and Medicare laws and “has been a staunch ally of U.S. automakers and a supporter of national health insurance and oversight of government agencies,” Derek Wallbank and I reported for Bloomberg News yesterday.
“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.”
To give you an idea of Dingell’s longevity, anyone elected to the House today would have to serve past St. Patrick’s Day 2073 to reach 21,572 days of service. Dingell in January will be more than 2,000 days ahead of the second longest-serving House member in history, Mississippi Democrat Jamie Whitten, who served 19,419 days from 1941 to 1995. Dingell last June passed West Virginia Democrat Robert C. Byrd, who served in the House and Senate from 1953 to 2010, as the longest-serving member of Congress in history.
The 59-plus years Dingell will have served when his term expires in January amounts to more than 26 percent of the time since the first Congress convened in 1789. He’s been in the House longer than President Barack Obama and almost half of his current House colleagues have been alive.
Obama, in a statement, honored Dingell’s “tireless fight to guarantee quality, affordable health care for every American.” Vice President Joe Biden said “there’s never been a colleague I’ve admired more.” Former president Bill Clinton joked in 2005, when Dingell celebrated his 50 years of House service, that “presidents come and presidents go and John Dingell goes on forever.”
Dingell’s father, who served in the House from 1933 until his death in 1955, was a New Deal Democrat present at President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of the 1935 law that created the Social Security system.
“If I can be half the man my father was, I shall feel I am a great success,” the younger Dingell said in January 1956.
Dingell’s seat may stay in the family. A potential candidate for the seat is his wife, Deborah Dingell, who’s well-known in Michigan and Washington political circles through her work with General Motors Co. and the Democratic National Committee.
“If she runs, The Lovely Deborah, I will vote for her,” Dingell said, employing the term of affection he has long applied to his wife.