Rep. John Dingell sets new record for congressional service

This 1955 file photo shows Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) being sworn in by mentor and former Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn of Texas in 1955.
(The Dingell family / Associated Press)

WASHINGTON – Rep. John Dingell of Michigan on Friday became the longest-serving member of Congress in history, surpassing the longevity record previously held by the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia.

Dingell, a Democrat, has now served in the House of Representatives for 57 years, five months and 26 days. He was sworn in on Dec. 14, 1955, after winning a special election to fill the seat his father had held for more than two decades. During his father’s tenure, Dingell also worked for a time as a congressional page.

As the longest-tenured member, Dingell has the honorary title of dean of the House. One month shy of his 87th birthday, Dingell is actually the second-oldest member of the House, behind Texas Republican Ralph Hall.

The House was not in session Friday, but a bicameral ceremony is scheduled for June 13 in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall to honor his service. In a statement, President Obama also said he would congratulate him on the milestone at the White House next week.

“John has always worked tirelessly for people of his beloved Michigan and for working families across America,” Obama said. “He has helped pass some of the most important laws of the last half-century, from Medicare to the Civil Rights Act to the Clean Air Act to the Affordable Care Act, and he continues to fight for workers’ rights, access to affordable healthcare, and the preservation of our environment for future generations to enjoy.”


At an event hosted by the Atlantic magazine in Washington on Friday, Dingell said he plans to remain in Congress so long as the voters continue to elect him and “as long as I can do a good job.”

“I don’t want to stay here when people are sorry for me, or when I’m not able to do the job, or when somebody else, I think, can do a better job,” he said. He said he’ll decide whether to seek a 31st House term next January.

Dingell surpassed Jamie Whitten of Mississippi as the longest serving member in the House in February 2009. Byrd served for more than 51 years in the Senate after six in the House.

Dingell has served with – not “under,” he insists – 11 presidents, and called fellow Michigander Gerald Ford the “single most underrated.” Of Obama, he said, “history’s going to be good to him,” though he said his staff has not always served him well.

According to his office, he’d cast about 25,000 votes as of 2011. The most important, Dingell said Friday, was the Civil Rights Act in 1964. He also cited a vote creating the Medicare program and another in 2010 to pass the Affordable Care Act as highlights of his tenure.

Dingell bemoaned the current partisanship in Washington today, calling this the “most snarled-up Congress” he’s ever served in. But, he added: “It’s a privilege serving in even this Congress.”

Dingell currently represents the 12th district in Michigan, which includes areas south and west of Detroit and stretches to Ann Arbor.

Follow Politics Now on Twitter and Facebook

Twitter: @mikememoli