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Rep. John Dingell calls it quits

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Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the longest-serving House member in history, will retire at the end of his term.

{mosads}”Around this time every two years, my wife Deborah and I confer on the question of whether I will seek reelection. My standards are high for this job. I put myself to the test and have always known that when the time came that I felt I could not live up to my own personal standard for a member of Congress, it would be time to step aside for someone else to represent this district,” Dingell will say in a lunchtime speech in Michigan, according to prepared remarks. “That time has come.”

Dingell, 87, has been in Congress since 1955 and is the longest-serving member in congressional history.

The former chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee cited both health concerns and a frustration with Congress in his decision to retire.

Dingell told The Detroit News that both his age and frustration with partisan polarization led to his decision to retire.

“I’m not going to be carried out feet first,” Dingell told the paper. “I don’t want people to say I stayed too long.”

“I find serving in the House to be obnoxious,” he continued. “It’s become very hard because of the acrimony and bitterness, both in Congress and in the streets.”

The longtime congressman, known for his forceful personality, has, for decades, been a fierce ally of Michigan’s auto industry. He has often worked across the aisle with Republicans on legislation, creating friction with liberal House Democrats on environmental issues.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) supported another House member, the more liberal Rep. Lynn Rivers (D), when Rivers and Dingell were forced into a primary against one another more than a decade ago.

Although Dingell won that race, he was forced out of the top position on the House Energy and Commerce Committee by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) a few years later. He served as chairman of the committee from 1981-1995 and again from 2007-2009. 

Dingell played a crucial role in helping to create Medicare in the 1960s. In 1990, after a decade of disagreement, he and Waxman compromised to craft an update to the Clean Air Act. He also played a role in helping convince more conservative Democrats to support the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and 2010.

When Waxman announced his decision to retire earlier this year, Dingell considered another push to be the Energy and Commerce committee’s ranking member. But he faced a challenge in convincing Democratic members that he, and not a younger, more liberal member, should hold the slot.

Dingell became the longest-serving member in congressional history in June 2013, passing the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) for the title.

He is just one of two World War II veterans still serving in Congress, alongside Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas), and Congress’s oldest member. Dingell’s father also served in the House, holding the seat from 1933-1955. The younger Dingell has been in Congress for more than a quarter of the time the House has existed.

It is widely expected that Dingell’s wife, Democratic National Committee member and former General Motors Foundation executive Debbie Dingell, will run for his seat. Debbie Dingell mulled a run for Michigan’s open Senate seat earlier this year before deciding not to run. Dingell’s congressional seat is safely Democratic.

Dingell thanked his wife for her work, calling her his “dear friend and wise advisor” in his prepared remarks, without mentioning her as a possible candidate for the seat.

“I want to express my thanks and gratitude to the lovely Deborah,” he said. “She has been tireless, devoted, and worked just as hard — if not harder — for this district throughout the years.”

— This post was last updated at 12:25 p.m.

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