After 53 years in the House, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) will stand alone today as the longest-serving Representative in history. Dingell will break the late Rep. Jamie Whittens (D-Miss.) record and surpass the other 10,000 or so legislators who have served in the House since 1789.
Eighty-two years ago, I hit the jackpot, he said this week in an interview, looking back on his life. I was born in the United States of America. Thats the greatest thing that ever happened to me.
Dingell, who last year was replaced as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, where he had been ensconced as the top Democrat since 1981, said he plans to stick around.
At different times Ive thought about moving on, but theres always been something to do, he said.
And the dean of the House has had an unrivaled résumé over the decades as the chief defender of the Detroit auto industry, a stout conservationist and a man who has made his name in fighting to expand health care for all.
Dingells career both inside and outside Congress, outlined in a 35-page timeline presented by his office, offers a snapshot of the history of modern America.
In 1933, his father, John Dingell Sr., took office in the depths of the Great Depression when President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched the New Deal.
Young John Dingell walked the House floor for the first time at age 6. He became a House page when he turned 12, and he was in the chamber with his father in 1941 when Roosevelt gave the Day of Infamy speech that launched the United States into World War II.
Less than three years later, Dingell was drafted into the Army, and his unit of 210 soldiers was decimated in the Battle of the Bulge. Dingell, who spent the battle in the hospital suffering from meningitis, was one of 10 survivors.
Before he was elected to the House, Dingell was a park ranger where he trapped bears, blew up beaver dams and fought forest fires and a prosecutor. Both career paths turned out to be good training for what would come next.
After Dingell was elected to the House in 1955 to succeed his late father, he was stuck on what most would consider a backwater committee the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, which no longer exists. But Dingell used the post to make his mark on landmark conservation legislation, often working with Republicans who were then deep in the minority. Hardly any Democrats would show up to do these things, he said.
He would play major roles in writing the Clean Air, Clean Water, National Environmental Policy and Endangered Species acts.
Dingell also, like his father before him, introduced legislation every Congress to provide universal health care, and he presided in 1965 over the vote creating Medicare.
After taking the Commerce chairmanship in 1981, Dingell made his committee known for fierce investigations and for his Dingell-grams warning departments to shape up.
Dingell, who has been a fierce defender of the House rules and regular order, also has a reputation for working across the aisle in what seems to be a bit of a lost art.