“You’re talking to a guy who is really sad but also who is really angry,” Rep. John Dingell told Roll Call in a wide-ranging interview on the eve of the 56th anniversary of his 1955 entry to Congress.
If a version of himself from 20 or 30 years ago were suddenly transported to the current day, the Michigan Democrat said, “I’d probably want to go and vomit.”
The Dean of the House spreads the blame, from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the tea-party-inspired candidates who wrested control of the chamber from the Democrats, to President Barack Obama, whom Dingell said needs to engage with the public or suffer the fate of one-termer Jimmy Carter. He even has a few harsh words for the press.
And his decades in Congress have given him the clout to speak candidly of other House figures from both parties.
Dingell reserves particular scorn for the approach that Republican leaders, in the wake of their 2010 takeover of the chamber, have taken toward directing their new rank and file.
“I happen to like Boehner; he’s a good guy,” Dingell said. “So Boehner goes out with his leadership team [and] he creates these tea baggers who come running in. These tea baggers come in and they decide they’re going to run the place. They don’t know the rules. They don’t know the traditions. They don’t know the customs. They don’t know the mores. They don’t know how to make this place work. They’re gonna run it!
“It’s just like taking a grade school class, bringing ’em down here and saying, ‘Here, run the country,’” said the man who attended the Capitol Page School.
“Boehner has created this crowd, and all of the sudden, they come in and they don’t follow him. So he’s created a monster. He’s created a monster that’s gonna eat him. Before they even know where the men’s or women’s restrooms is, they’re making speeches telling how important they are and how this has gotta be done.”
“There’s an old saying around this place, that everybody says you bring a big group in and it’s always a terrible group,” Dingell said. “They think, ‘I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread. I’m going to save this country.’ But they’re the only sons of bitches that think that. And then when it’s all over with and done with, everybody says, ‘Good God. Where did we get that crowd of crackpots?’”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.