John DingellJohn DingellJohn Dingell tweets after reports of entering hospice care: ‘You’re not done with me just yet’ The Hill’s 12:30 Report: State of the Union takeaways | Sights and sounds from the night | Virginia attorney general admits he wore blackface John Dingell has ‘entered new phase,’ says wife, who asks for prayers MORE, the longest-serving member of Congress in history, died Thursday at the age of 92.
Dingell recently entered hospice care after a cancer diagnosis.
The office of Rep. Deborah Dingell (D-Mich.), Dingell’s wife and successor in Congress, released a statement on his death.
“He was a lion of the United States Congress and a loving son, father, husband, grandfather, and friend,” the statement said. “He will be remembered for his decades of public service to the people of Southeast Michigan, his razor sharp wit, and a lifetime of dedication to improving the lives of all who walk this earth.”
First elected in 1955, Dingell became revered on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill for his legislative prowess while shaping some of the most consequential bills in the last century.
After a historic tenure that included landmark votes on civil rights, authorizing wars, and Medicare, Dingell retired in 2014 in frustration over the entrenched partisanship that came to define Congress in his final years.
“I find serving in the House to be obnoxious,” Dingell told The Detroit News when he announced his retirement. “It’s become very hard because of the acrimony and bitterness.”
He used his final days on Capitol Hill to warn future generations about the growing partisanship.
“Like all of you, I’m troubled about the times in which we find ourselves. We have too much ill-will, too much hatred, too much bitterness, too much anger,” Dingell said at an event marking his record as the longest-serving member of Congress in 2013. “Congress means ‘a coming together,’ where people come together to work for great causes in which they all have an important interest. … We have, I think, unfortunately, because of the pressure of the times, forgotten this.”
Dingell wielded immense power over the course of his time in the House, despite never serving in the elected Democratic leadership.
His influence stemmed from his tenure as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee from 1981 to 1995 and again from 2007 to 2009, a position he used to defend the auto industry based near his suburban Detroit district. That helped earn him the nickname of “The Truck.”
Dingell had personal ties to auto industry, too: his wife, Debbie, served as vice chairman of the General Motors Foundation until 2009.
Dingell’s record tenure as the longest-serving member of Congress began upon his first election to Congress more than six decades ago. But his roots on Capitol Hill started to take form in his childhood.
He often visited the Capitol with his father, Rep. John Dingell Sr. (D-Mich.), and served as a House page when he was 12 years old.
Dingell’s father served in the House for 22 years until he died in office in 1955. Dingell, at the time only 29, ran in the special election to replace his father and continue the family dynasty.
With Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellJohn Dingell tweets after reports of entering hospice care: ‘You’re not done with me just yet’ The Hill’s 12:30 Report: State of the Union takeaways | Sights and sounds from the night | Virginia attorney general admits he wore blackface John Dingell has ‘entered new phase,’ says wife, who asks for prayers MORE‘s election in 2014, the Detroit-based district has now been represented by the family since 1933.
But Dingell’s ties to the auto industry became a liability later in his career when fellow Democrats agitated for new climate and environmental regulations.
In November 2008, Dingell faced a challenge from then-Rep. Henry WaxmanHenry Arnold WaxmanAfter Congress, staying in the fight House energy panel to dedicate first hearing to climate change Top Lobbyists 2018 MORE (D-Calif.) for the Energy and Commerce Committee gavel, who was viewed as a more aggressive proponent of new climate policies. Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D’Alesandro PelosiTrump, Democrats clash over probes Senate buzz grows for Abrams after speech electrifies Dems Democrats step up work to get Trump tax returns MORE (D-Calif.) officially remained neutral in the race, but many of her allies notably backed her fellow Californian’s move against Dingell.
He narrowly lost to Waxman 137 to 122 in a secret ballot vote.
But Dingell still played a role in the health care overhaul Democrats passed in 2010. He helped author the Patient’s Bill of Rights provisions in the Affordable Care Act, which prevent insurance companies from denying coverage for children with pre-existing conditions and enacting lifetime and annual limits on coverage.
Universal health care had long been one of his signature issues. Dingell had kept up his father’s tradition of introducing legislation in every new session of Congress for a national health care system.
Then there was Dingell’s sometimes unexpectedly biting sense of humor.
Dingell scolded then-House Minority Leader John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner blames ‘knuckleheads in Congress’ who listen to talk radio for shutdown Meadows reelected House Freedom Caucus chairman Bottom line MORE (R-Ohio) for his chain-smoking habit during House floor debate in July 2008 on legislation to give the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco products.
BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner blames ‘knuckleheads in Congress’ who listen to talk radio for shutdown Meadows reelected House Freedom Caucus chairman Bottom line MORE had called the proposal a “bone-headed idea.”
Dingell responded by making a startling prediction that “the distinguished gentleman, the minority leader, is going to be amongst the next to die.”
“I am trying to save him, as the rest of us are, because he is committing suicide every time he puffs on one of those things,” Dingell added.
Dingell, in another instance, once famously said while emphasizing the importance of understanding legislative processes: “If I let you write the substance and you let me write the procedure, I’ll screw you every time.”
Dingell also wrote an annual “Dingell Jingle” around Christmas, a tradition that Debbie Dingell continued when she took office.
He reflected on his career in his 2014 jingle: “Earned the Medal of Freedom! Even passed legislation! / All this in the face of Congressional stagnation.
“And though Congress moved slow, in its usual fashion / My one question remained: what the heck’s a Kardashian?”
That same wit lent itself to Dingell’s prolific social media presence after retiring from Congress.
One of his last tweets came on the day of the new session of Congress on Jan. 3, when he offered a tip for the new freshman class.
“As this Congress begins, a bit of advice for new Members that I received back in 1955: For the next six months you’re going to wonder how the hell you got here,” Dingell wrote.
“Then one day you’ll come on to the House floor, look around, and wonder how in the hell all the other fools got here.”