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Former Rep. John Dingell Dies At 92


And now we remember the man who served in the U.S. Congress longer than anyone else. John Dingell represented Michigan in the U.S. House starting in 1955, ending in 2014. During that time, he became one of the legislative body's most powerful members. Dingell passed away at the age of 92. Here's NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: The numbers alone are jaw-dropping - 59 years in Congress, undefeated in 30 elections, more than 21,000 roll-call votes cast. Here's how Nancy Pelosi described John Dingell as he began retirement at the start of 2015.


NANCY PELOSI: Every now and then, you hear the expression, somebody is a living legend. That doesn't even begin to describe John Dingell.

GONYEA: That same day, Democratic Congressman Steny Hoyer put it this way.


STENY HOYER: When he came to Congress, Americans had Dwight Eisenhower as president. Brooklyn had a champion Dodgers baseball team. And Elvis Presley had his first gold record. But what I will point out is what Americans did not have. Americans did not have the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act.

GONYEA: Dingell supported both of those landmark pieces of legislation. They were, he said, his most important votes. He also championed the Clean Air and Water acts, Medicaid and Medicare. And like his father, John Dingell Sr., who served before him, he introduced a national health care bill every session he served until the Affordable Care Act came along.


JOHN DINGELL: I have the curious belief that health care is a right and not a privilege. And I believe that we've waited too long to see to it that that's a reality.

GONYEA: One Democrat in Congress opined that Obamacare should really be called Dingellcare (ph). John Dingell's time in the U.S. House actually predated his election. The son of a congressman, he was working as a page in the House chamber in 1941 when President Roosevelt delivered his famous Day of Infamy speech following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Decades later, Dingell recalled watching FDR that day in leg braces, struggling with the effects of polio as the president moved to the podium to speak.


DINGELL: So he actually walked. And he was supported by 10 pounds of iron. He had these frames that held him.

GONYEA: When he turned 18, Dingell enlisted but never saw combat in World War II. College and law school followed with help from the G.I. Bill, then a stint as a county prosecutor in Detroit. He came to Congress at age 29, winning a special election in 1955 after his father's death. Dingell rose to the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, wielding great power and commanding great respect. He was a fierce advocate for the U.S. automobile industry. That sometimes put him at odds with environmentalists, though they also applauded his work on conservation, clean air and water and protecting endangered species. Here's Dingell in 2008, when GM and Chrysler were seeking a government rescue amid the financial crisis.


DINGELL: I'm here to tell you this is too big a disaster for us to invite. Imagine a nation with double-digit unemployment. That's what we're going to be talking about.

GONYEA: Late in his career, John Dingell bemoaned the rise of the Tea Party and the bitter partisanship that he said made compromise so difficult. In the summer of 2014, he spoke at the National Press Club.


DINGELL: I am sad to leave the Congress. I love the Congress. I will observe that my sadness is ameliorated by the poisonous atmosphere that we see in American politics today.

GONYEA: When John Dingell retired, his wife, Debbie Dingell, won election to his seat, meaning southeast Michigan has been represented by a Dingell in Congress continuously since 1933. With his passing, he leaves a legacy both in terms of legislation and in time of service that may never be equaled. Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.