Lawmakers honor Rep. Dingell after 60 years in Congress
© Greg Nash

Dozens of lawmakers took to the House floor Tuesday evening to pay tribute to retiring Rep. John DingellJohn DingellCOVID-19 bill limiting liability would strike the wrong balance Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell easily wins House primary Great American Outdoors Act will deliver critical investments to our national parks, forests MORE (D-Mich.), the longest-serving member of Congress in history.

Dingell is retiring at the end of this Congress after serving since 1955.

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Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), who is poised to become the new dean of the House in January, noted he's worked with Dingell as both a staffer and lawmaker over a period spanning nearly a century of American history.

"Over these six decades, we have fought together successfully for Medicare, for clean air and water, for workers' rights, and most importantly, for civil rights," Conyers said. "Congressman Dingell is a masterful legislator, but most importantly, a man of conscience."

Dingell served as a powerful chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee starting in 1981. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), a former Energy and Commerce Committee chairman who served with Dingell for more than two decades, said he will be remembered as one of the most influential lawmakers in history.

"We always in Texas refer to the former Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, who served for 48 years, as man of the House," Barton said. "But in all honesty, I would have to say the ultimate and true man of the House is the honorable John Dingell of Michigan."

Barton said that Dingell, who often visited the Capitol with his father, the late Rep. John Dingell, Sr. (D-Mich.) in the 1930s and served as a House page as a child, "literally grew up in the House."

"If you count not only his service as a member, but the time he spent as a child when his father was in Congress, he has literally been in the House for almost a third of its existence as an institution," Barton said.

Dingell was the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee until 2009, after Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) challenged him for the gavel with implicit approval from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). 

Waxman, who is also retiring this year, had only kind words for Dingell.

"I've served on that committee for 40 years, and I've learned more from John Dingell than I have from anybody else that I've served with as a colleague," Waxman said.

The signature issue for Dingell and his father was universal healthcare. Both he and his father introduced legislation at the start of every Congress for a national health insurance system.

Pelosi recalled when Dingell lent her the same gavel he used when presiding over the passage of Medicare in 1965 for passage of ObamaCare in 2010.

"Every now and then, you hear the expression, somebody is a living legend. That doesn't even begin to describe John Dingell," Pelosi said. 

Dingell's wife, Debbie, will fill his seat in January.

"Surely we will continue to have him in our midst as a congressional spouse," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). "But he will be very, very sorely missed among members of this body."

Dingell, 88, was not in the chamber for the tribute, as he "took a spill" and had to watch it from his doctor's office instead.

"Took a spill & had to watch floor tribute from the doc's office. Bruised my hip and my ego, but heading home & back to work in the morning," Dingell tweeted.