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Representatives Laud A Departing Dean, 59-Year Veteran John Dingell


What has come to be known as the torture report came out in the last days of the current Congress, which are also the final days for a retiring lawmaker. He's the longest-serving member in the history of Congress. John Dingell is 88 years old, and his colleagues took time to recognize his service. Here's NPR's Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: An hour was set aside for members to offer some thoughts on the career of John Dingell, a once powerful chairman, a fierce advocate for causes he believes in and a friend and mentor to so many who came along after him. An hour wasn't enough to accommodate all those who wanted to speak. They sat in the chamber. They waited their turn. And each took a few minutes. There was Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.


REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI: Every now and then, you hear the expression, somebody is a living legend. That doesn't even begin to describe John Dingell.


GONYEA: And Steny Hoyer, the number two ranking Democrat who noted that Dingell joined the House 59 years ago this week.

REPRESENTATIVE STENY HOYER: When he came to Congress, Americans had Dwight Eisenhower as president. Brooklyn had a champion Dodgers baseball team. And Elvis Presley had his first gold record. But what I will point out is what Americans did not have. Americans did not have the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act.

GONYEA: Hoyer said Dingell was an important player in getting those things past. He added the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, children's health care and Medicare to the list. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee noted that Dingell, like his late father who held the seat before him, introduced a national health care bill in every session, year after year after year.


REPRESENTATIVE SHEILA JACKSON LEE: He never gave up. He never gave up. So I stand here today to thank you, John Dingell, for the Affordable Care Act. They call it many things, Obama Care, but I'm getting ready to call it Dingell Care because you work without ceasing.

GONYEA: Yesterday, some simply called Dingell the chairman, a reference to his time as the respected but feared man with the gavel on the Energy and Commerce Committee. Others said Big John as they described his imposing size and that long arm he'd wrap around your shoulder when he needed a favor. Then, there was this from Republican Congressman Joe Barton of Texas, who served with Dingell on energy and commerce.


REPRESENTATIVE JOE BARTON: When I became chairman in 2003, he was the ranking Democrat on the committee. He helped me, sometimes in public, sometimes behind the scenes, even when he didn't agree with the legislation that the Republican majority was pushing.

GONYEA: Now, Dingell himself was not present for all the tributes. He suffered a fall early in the day and said he watched from his doctor's office. On his very popular Twitter account, he posted, quote, "turns out these old Polish bones of mine are stronger than ever, and I didn't break anything. Thanks to my colleagues for all their kind words." So no speech from Dingell yesterday, but this summer, he did make an appearance at the National Press Club.


REPRESENTATIVE JOHN DINGELL: I'm sad to leave the Congress. I love the Congress.

GONYEA: On that day, Dingell also lamented that partisanship now trumps compromise. And he criticized those who come to Washington to obstruct.

DINGELL: I will observe that my sadness is ameliorated by the poisonous atmosphere that we see in American politics today.

GONYEA: But yesterday, it was all about the departing dean of the U.S. House and a chance for a public farewell from colleagues, including Georgia Congressman John Lewis.


REPRESENTATIVE JOHN LEWIS: John, my friend, my brother, my colleague, thank you for your service. Thank you for all of the good that you've done to make our country and to make our world a better place.

GONYEA: Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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