POLITICS
02/24/2014 09:14 am ET Updated Feb 24, 2014

John Dingell Retiring After Nearly 60 Years In Congress

WASHINGTON -- Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) is retiring from Congress after 59 years.

Dingell will make the announcement Monday at a luncheon in Downriver, Mich., according to the Detroit News.

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

Dingell is the longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history, first coming to the House on Dec. 13, 1955 at the age of 29. He succeeded his father, John Dingell Sr., in a special election that year and went on to win a full term in 1956. Since then, he has been reelected 29 times. He is also one of two remaining World War II veterans in Congress; the other is Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas).

Dingell officially became the longest-serving member on June 7, 2013, when he was feted by colleagues in both parties and by President Barack Obama for the milestone. Over the past five decades, he has worked with 11 presidents, served with 2,419 House colleagues and cast more than 25,000 votes.

The Michigan Democrat will leave behind a legacy of hallmark legislation impacting civil rights, the environment, health care and workers' rights. He presided over the passage of Medicare in 1965, and he wrote the Endangered Species Act, the 1990 Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. He was the lead author of the Affordable Care Act, the Patient's Bill of Rights, the Children's Health Insurance Program and the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. He has also been a staunch defender of the U.S. auto industry.

Dingell served for years as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, arguably the most powerful committee in the House. During his tenure, he subpoenaed top administration officials under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and led oversight hearings that exposed corruption in various government agencies. One of his investigations uncovered $600 toilet seats at the Pentagon.

"We emptied the top leadership of the EPA," Dingell told Newsweek in 2006. "We put a large number of FDA people in jail."

He lost his chairman post to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) in 2008, though he was given the title of chairman emeritus in honor of his years leading the committee.

Dingell hasn't had much trouble getting reelected over the years, receiving less than 62 percent of the vote just twice when Republicans swept the House in 1994 and 2010. He didn't even have a GOP opponent in 1988 and 2006. Still, it nearly cost him his election early on when he came out in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He told the Associated Press that the Wall Street Journal gave him a "one in 15 chance" of winning the race that year.

Dingell already knew his way around the halls of Congress before his first House run. He was a congressional page from 1938 until 1943. He joined the Army in 1944 and later attended Georgetown University, where he graduated with a chemistry degree and eventually a Juris Doctor. He worked as a lawyer in private practice until 1955, when his father passed away and he decided to run for his House seat.

Between Dingell and his father, the two have represented the southeastern Michigan area for more than 80 years.

UPDATE: President Barack Obama called Dingell "one of the most influential legislators of all time" and praised his decades of fighting for quality, affordable health care.

"Decades after his father first introduced a bill for comprehensive health reform, John continued to introduce health care legislation at the beginning of every session. And as an original author of the Affordable Care Act, he helped give millions of families the peace of mind of knowing they won’t lose everything if they get sick," Obama said in a statement. "Today, the people of Michigan -- and the American people -- are better off because of John Dingell’s service to this country, and Michelle and I wish him, his wife Debbie, and their family the very best."

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