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John Dingell, dean of the House, plans to retire

February 24, 2014|By Michael A. Memoli
  • The dean of the House won't seek a 31st term this year, ending a nearly six decade-long career in Washington.
The dean of the House won't seek a 31st term this year, ending a nearly… (AFP / Getty Images )

WASHINGTON -- Michigan Rep. John Dingell, the dean of the House and the most tenured lawmaker in the history of Congress, will retire at the end of his current term, he announced Monday.

Dingell told newspapers in his Detroit-area district that he won't seek a 31st term this year, ending a nearly six decade-long career in Washington. A formal announcement will come later Monday.

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

Dingell set a new record for length of congressional service last June, passing the late Robert C. Byrd's mark of more than 57 years in both the House and Senate. Dingell was first elected in a special election in 1955, taking the seat his father had held for more than two decades.

But Dingell had worked in Congress even before he was sworn in, as a congressional page. In that role he watched as President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his famous "Day of Infamy" speech to a joint session of Congress, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that sent the United States into World War II.

During his long House career Dingell was a champion for Democratic priorities, foremost among them universal healthcare. At the start of each new Congress Dingell would introduce a bill to establish a universal healthcare system; he was at President Obama's side when he signed the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010.

Dingell has served with – not “under,” he insists – 11 presidents. As of 2011 he had cast 25,000 votes in Congress. At an event last year he called his vote for the 1964 Civil Rights Act his most important.

Dingell becomes only the latest senior lawmaker to head for the exits this year. He's the 20th member of the House to announce his retirement. Six current senators are also retiring, including six-term Michigan Sen. Carl Levin (D).

Dingell told the Detroit News that his health is good enough that he believes he could have continued to serve, though perhaps not for another full term. He said his frustration with gridlock in Washington contributed to his decision.

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

If reelected, fellow Michigan Rep. John Conyers would replace Dingell as the dean of the House, an honorary title afforded to its most senior member. Conyers was first elected in 1964.

Republican Ralph Hall of Texas, who joined the House in 1981, is currently the oldest member of the House at 90, three years older than Dingell. The two men are the only remaining World War II veterans serving in Congress.

On Twitter: @mikememoli

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