WASHINGTON — Longtime Rep. John Dingell was remembered Thursday as “one of the greats” and “a world-class doer” as lawmakers, longtime colleagues and a former president hailed his record-breaking service in the House.
Dingell, who died last week at 92, served 59 years in Congress, longer than anyone else in U.S. history. The Michigan Democrat was the longtime chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee and played a key role in laws on everything from health care to the environment, civil rights and the auto industry, which Dingell fiercely defended throughout his tenure.
“Many of the most significant laws of our land forged over the last 60 years bear the unmistakable imprint of John David Dingell Jr.,” said former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. He called Dingell “one of the greats, the gentleman from Michigan, the dean of the House, the chairman.”
Rep. Fred Upton, who followed Dingell as Energy and Commerce chairman, called Dingell “Mr. Michigan,” and said Dingell’s love of his home state was unmatched. Upton, a Michigan Republican, recalled Dingell’s famous remark about the committee: “If it moves, it’s energy. If it doesn’t it’s commerce. We had the world.”
Former President Bill Clinton said the funeral at Holy Trinity Catholic Church marked one of the few times anyone in attendance could be in the same room with Dingell and get the last word.
While Dingell served for nearly six decades, it was what he achieved while in Congress that matters more, Clinton said, calling Dingell “a world-class doer.”
“John Dingell was just about the best doer in the history of American public life,” Clinton said, citing Dingell’s decades-long role in a host of landmark laws, including the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, Endangered Species Act, Clear Water Act and many others.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a close friend, called the 6-foot-3 Dingell larger than life and said the famously gruff Dingell was “imposing” and even intimidating.
“He was our very own Big John,” said Hoyer, D-Md., noting that while Dingell was “sometimes acerbic,” he was “as tender as he was tenacious and he became a dear friend.”
Hundreds of people, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and members of Congress from both parties, attended the funeral, the second service this week honoring Dingell. Former Vice President Joe Biden and other dignitaries spoke at a memorial service Tuesday in Dearborn, Michigan, where Dingell lived.
Biden said Dingell treated everyone with respect and “knew public service wasn’t a title you wear, but a shift you work.”
Dingell succeeded his father in Congress in 1955, and carried on John Dingell Sr.’s wishes by introducing a universal health care coverage bill in each of his terms.
Speakers at both services noted that Dingell, who would have celebrated his 38th wedding anniversary on Wednesday, was succeeded by his wife, Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell.
Hoyer recalled Dingell’s legislative tactics, and said Dingell once adjourned a committee meeting because he lacked the votes on a particular bill.
“He said, ‘You might have the votes, but I’ve got the gavel,’ ” Hoyer said to laughter. More often than not, Hoyer added, Dingell “ultimately got the votes too.”
Boehner said Dingell was a great legislator, “not just because he was a shrewd negotiator or a master tactician or a hard-driving son of a gun — and he was all of those things — but above else because he was a great American.”
For all his years in public service, Dingell never dwelled on the past, Clinton said, noting that Dingell published his memoir just last year. In retirement, Dingell also “became a Zen master” at Twitter, Clinton said: “Few words, much wisdom.”
Dingell will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington.