MR. COSTA: Let’s stay in the House and end tonight with a farewell to the dean of the House, Congressman John Dingell. He passed away Thursday at the age of 92. The Democrat from Michigan was the longest-serving representative in U.S. history, spending nearly 60 years in the chamber. Dingell, a veteran, served in the seat previously held by his father. He twice chaired the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. He is survived by his wife, Debbie, who holds the House seat he once held.
Dan, you’ve covered Dingell for a long time, the late congressman now. What’s his legacy?
MR. BALZ: Well, I mean, his legacy is as long as, you know, you can make it. I mean, he’s been there through every significant fight. He’s been there through every fight in terms of advancement, of progress, whether it’s, you know, Medicare and Medicaid, civil rights. You know, he’s been somebody who’s held people in power accountable. He’s run any number of investigations. I mean, he’s just been there throughout the whole modern history of the United States. And when you look at that, there’s basically almost no one who’s had that combination of longevity and impact that John Dingell has had.
MR. COSTA: And he often would talk about his father, being with his father after Pearl Harbor, being there in Washington as FDR made his case to the nation – lived through so much history, made so much history.
MS. KAY: Yeah, it’s not just that he served under I think it was 11 presidents, right, John Dingell, it’s that he has that – he was there, you know, for the Second World War. We’re losing those people. We’re losing that memory of what the country can be like, what the West can be like, the country that was built and the society and the liberal democratic values that were built after the end of the Second World War. And I think for people who are concerned about the threats to those liberal democratic values, John Dingell represents a time when they were really thriving and when nations worked together to protect them. And as he, you know, lamented in his Washington Post piece on the day he died, this is a time of much more divisiveness.
MR. COSTA: I know you were reading that, the Washington Post piece by Dingell.
MS. NAWAZ: I was. It was such a beautiful thing if you imagine someone dictating the final words they want to leave behind in those final moments. And I’ll tell you, the one line that stuck with me was something he wanted to leave for other people to carry forward, and he talked about elected officials not having power but holding power, and that power coming from the trust that people place in them. And one of the last lines that he – that he wrote in there was about how he prays to God that we’ll, all of us – not just officials, but all of us as Americans and participants in this great democracy – find the wisdom to recognize the responsibility we hold.
MR. COSTA: Susan, he was a man of powerful words. He was also a lot of fun to cover. I remember his –
MS. DAVIS: He was so much fun to cover. (Laughter.)
MR. COSTA: We used to stake him out, he’d have that scooter with “the dean” on his scooter.
MS. DAVIS: He is so much fun to cover.
MR. COSTA: On his scooter, the license plate that said “the dean” on it, pretty cool. And he was – he was a man who enjoyed the House, a man of the House.
MS. DAVIS: He was – he was an original. He was an American original. When I first came to the Hill after the 2002 elections and I started covering John Dingell, Republicans were trying to pass the Medicare Part D bill and Dingell was in the minority. And he went to them and said you need to invite me to your meetings as you write this bill; and they said why would we invite you, you’re not going to vote for it. And he said, you’re right, I’m not, but you – and quoting LBJ he said you’d rather have me inside the tent looking out than outside the tent looking in. (Laughter.) We’ll clean that up. And they were right, he didn’t vote for it but he did help them write it. And I think it was proof of a time when you could be both an unabashed partisan and a good legislator, and those two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive even though they increasingly feel that way now.
MR. COSTA: And he became a Twitter star in retirement.
MS. DAVIS: He became a Twitter star. You can still be relevant into your 90s on social media and in politics.
MS. KAY: A quarter of a million followers on Twitter.
MS. DAVIS: And that’s a good legacy to leave behind, so –
MR. BALZ: And wickedly funny, wickedly funny on Twitter. I mean, just – I mean, he had a great sense of humor, and it – and it came – the world could see it in a way that people who covered him were able to see it or who were his colleagues, but on Twitter the whole world could see it.
MR. COSTA: Yeah, a special guy. I remember just reporting on him, and it’s – he was someone who appreciated the institution of the House. And even if you were a young reporter, he’d answer your questions. He took the job seriously. So we wish everybody in the Dingell family all of the best this week.