John Dingell — February 24, 2014 at 12:58 pm

John Dingell’s retirement statement and responses


John Dingell with Mark Schauer, Senator Carl Levin, and Congressman John Conyers, photo by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog

Here are the Congressman’s remarks this afternoon announcing his retirement at the end of his current term (as prepared for delivery):

Greetings to all guests, those at the head table, distinguished guests, elected officials and friends.

What a great thing to be home amongst the people that Deborah and I love and have loved for so many years. This has been our home, full of loving friends and people whose goodness to all of us Dingells means so much.

We need to understand how blessed we are to be Americans, the richest, finest, most fortunate people in history. We need to criticize harshly those who do not brag of these facts and rejoice in our blessings.

And we need to love our country with great affection and intensity. Anyone doing less does disservice to themselves, the country, and their fellow Americans. Americans must change and they must insist that those who seek office and power do so. When that happens, things will start to turn for the better. We have much to be grateful for, and we owe it to ourselves, to each other, and to our fellow Americans to demand this of those seeking the privilege of power and office to make this change.

Too many office holders have rejected this and have refused to carry out their duty to the country, to each other, and to all of us, past, present, and future. Let us love our country. Our system, its blessings, its riches and the good it deserves and that it gives to each of us.

This Congress has been a great disappointment to everyone, members, media, citizens, and our country. Little has been done in this Congress, with 57 bills passed into law. That is not Heinz packaged varieties, it is the laws passed by the Congress.

There will be much blaming and finger pointing back and forth, but the Members share fault, much fault; the people share much fault, for encouraging a disregard of our country, our Congress, and our governmental system.

It is my hope that this session of Congress, on which we have now begun, will reflect on these important ideas and understand that we are all in this together.

No one can say to a fellow American, “Pardon me your end of the boat is sinking.” We narrowly saved the auto industry; it thrives today, turning out cars that are superb, and the wonder of the world.

We narrowly escaped the Great Recession—note those words—I went through the Great Depression. There’s only a couple of letters difference in the two names, but a major difference in the impact on the country. But we saw a lot of hard work, and real bipartisan leadership by the then-outgoing Republican Secretary of Treasury; by Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, and by our then-incoming Secretary of Treasury, working together with President Obama and members of both parties to pass ARRA and TARP, and we may all thank God they did.

The economy is coming back. I hope you went to the Auto Show to see the extraordinary American Cars and see your fellow Americans taking pride in what we are doing together, showing the world just what we can do.

Let’s be proud of our beloved country—what we have done, and what has been done for us by earlier Americans wiser than we. We have freedoms that are the wonder of the world and a standard of living that is envied by all.

So to be brief: let us work together. What unites us is far greater than what divides us. No President should have to tell a Congress that if that august body cannot do its task he will do it by executive order.

Congress means ‘a coming together.’ Look it up. It’s there in the dictionary. Let us share a few words and thoughts.

Compromise is an honorable word, as are cooperation, conciliation, and coordination. Let us recognize that our founding fathers intended that those words would be the way the business of our country would be conducted. Rights were given in the Constitution to be used well, to govern wisely, and to work together.

It worked on July 4, 1776, it worked in 1789, and we can—and should—work together today.

Much more needs to be done. Our infrastructure is crumbling, our tax laws are a confusing shamble, our election laws are a mess without rhyme or reason, and our people can see elections be stolen from them. A coming together is called for, and we must do it. No one else will do it for us.

The Congress must live up to its name. It must be a great coming together of our people.

We did temporarily avoid sequestration, as my colleagues and the country found that it was just too nasty for our government not to act. There is so much to be said for our beloved country, and at times we need to bring ourselves back on the path to greatness that the United States shared for centuries.

It is my belief that that is precisely what must be done to continue our economic recovery and move our country forward.

It was a sign of progress as my colleague Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray worked together on a budget compromise that helped to stave off many of the harmful cuts of the sequester, and returned a bit of certainty to our finances.

While this deal was in no way perfect, I found it to be an encouraging step towards returning to regular order and properly and securely funding our nation’s expenses in a fair and timely fashion.

For too long, bad politics has allowed this Congress to careen from one manufactured crisis to another, whether it’s a stubbornness to agree on a budget, a necessary raise of our debt ceiling, or any other matter that would restore certainty.

Let me also talk about some local projects that are important to all of us and to my work in Congress.

The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge continues to grow in size and scope, and we’ve already began construction on a visitors center that’s sure to bring many here to see even more of the beauty our part of the world has to offer.

And the progress on the River Raisin National Battlefield Park in Monroe is also something of value to our history, our culture, and our economic growth.

We’ve also made progress on the establishment of the New International Trade Crossing, and I commend our local and state officials—as well as the Canadian government—on their hard work and dedication to this project.

I share our people’s dedication, and I will continue to work to see to it that the Administration, my colleagues in Congress, and all at the federal level understand the importance of this project. We cannot delay.

As I said earlier, our domestic auto industry continues to grow, with some of the best cars in the world being made by some of the best workers right here in Michigan.

We’re continuing to see record sales numbers, shift additions, production expansions, and countless more evidence of success. We have to look no further than Flat Rock to see a prime example of the recent growths in this industry.

This is what happens when our workers and management come together in the name of making a good product at an honest wage that the American people can rely on. I’ll continue to fight for our autos every step of the way.

We’ve also made progress on a matter near and dear to me: ensuring affordable and fair health care coverage for all.

Nationwide, we’ve seen some 3.3 million Americans enroll in health care plans under the Affordable Care Act, with more than 115,000 of those enrollees right here in Michigan.

Of course there’s still work to be done to ensure that enrollment numbers continue to increase, but this most recent surge in enrollments is a telling sign that this program will be successful as more people find out about it and select the care they can afford and deserve.

You all know that I have made it my life’s work to ensure affordable health care for all, and the progress being made encourages me greatly.

Despite the political fighting over this topic, the American people are already benefiting from this law.

Kids can stay on their parents’ insurance to age 26. No one can be denied coverage due to a preexisting condition. The insurance company can’t cancel your coverage just because you got sick, or while you’re on a gurney making your way into an operating room. No longer are there lifetime caps on coverage.

These are real benefits that we’ve never seen before. I fought for inclusion of what is known as the Patients’ Bill of Rights because I believe that we have had too many people die or be left helpless due to want of necessary care. We need a system that works, and the Affordable Care Act is a step in that right direction

Why do I say these things now? All of these things we have discussed today are critical to our future. We have laid the foundation to do it as we have so many times in the past, by putting aside our differences and working together for the common good. I am confident this will happen again.

I would like now to invoke a point of personal privilege to talk a little about myself, which is something I am usually reluctant to do. There are plenty of people in Congress who love to talk about themselves and I have tried very hard not to join their ranks over the years. But I am setting aside that rule today to share my personal plans for the future with you, my dear friends.

Around this time every two years, my wife Deborah and I confer on the question of whether I will seek reelection. My standards are high for this job. I put myself to the test and have always known that when the time came that I felt I could not live up to my own personal standard for a Member of Congress, it would be time to step aside for someone else to represent this district.

That time has come.

I am fully aware of the honor that has been bestowed on me every two years by the people of Southeast Michigan when they gave me their votes to serve them in Washington. There is no greater privilege than a life spent in service, and I know how fortunate I have been to spend my life as a Member of Congress. I have done my best for the people who live here – my neighbors, my friends, those who supported me, and those who didn’t. The fabric of Michigan is the fabric of my life, and it has never frayed.

Public service is undervalued in our modern times, and I can understand that when I look at what our Congress has become. But it doesn’t have to be that. I am hopeful that this fever breaks at some point, and Congress goes back to what it should be: the House of the People, standing up for the average man and woman. That’s how I’ve always defined the job, and it’s a damn good definition.

I have ten months more in Congress, and I’m not going to waste a minute. There’s still a lot to be done and a lot I want to do.

Make no mistake, I love the Congress. It is the greatest legislative body in the world. It has been a privilege to serve them. I have loved the institution, the people I have served, the grand and good people of Southeast Michigan, of the 15th, 16th, 15th and then 12th districts. They are good people—the best I have known—and they care for the nation, their state, and their communities. They work hard, play by the rules, and deserve everything their hard work gives them.

Their elected officials are some of the finest people in the world, in and out of office. And their goodness to me and my family when I raised four kids alone will never be forgotten. I owe so much to the people of Southeast Michigan. Loyal, decent, good, kind and wonderful they are.

I also want to take advantage of this time to express my thanks and gratitude to the hundreds of people who have served on my staff, working long hours to serve the people of Michigan. Will those of you in the room who are current staff and alumni please stand so that we can give them the applause they deserve?

I want to express my thanks and gratitude to the many colleagues, past and present, who have worked with me for civil rights and equity for all, cleaner water, for cleaner air, to protect consumers, to expand our nation’s energy supply, and—above all—to make sure that every person in the United States has access to affordable health care.

And to my dear friend and wise adviser, whose wisdom, goodness, and caring have made it possible to serve with compassion and skill. Who has done so much to give me strength and comfort in my service and whose wisdom has lighted my way thru the difficult challenges I have faced as I have serve you. I want to express my thanks and gratitude to the Lovely Deborah. She has been tireless, devoted, and worked just as hard—if not harder—for this district throughout the years.

And of course, I express my thanks and gratitude to the people of Michigan for letting Deborah and I serve them, and for the support and friendship and trust we have experienced in this wonderful job.

My friends, that begins with you. Thank you.

But for now, let me tell you how much I love you all. We have fought many battles over the years as we tried to do what was right for the families who live here. We’ve been through tough times and have emerged, battered and bruised, but stronger for the fight.

Let me close with this: I am not leaving Congress. I am coming home to Michigan.

Thank you.

The reactions have been flooding my email all day:

The President of the United States of America Barack Obama:

Serving nearly six decades in the House of Representatives, John Dingell has earned the distinction of being both the longest-serving Member of Congress in U.S. history and one of the most influential legislators of all time. After serving his country in the Army during World War II, John was first elected to Congress in 1955 – representing the people of southeastern Michigan in a seat previously held by his father. In Washington, John risked his seat to support the Civil Rights Act of 1964, fought to pass Medicare in 1965, and penned legislation like the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act that have kept millions of Americans healthy and preserved our natural beauty for future generations.

But of all John’s accomplishments, perhaps the most remarkable has been his tireless fight to guarantee quality, affordable health care for every American. 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. 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.

The Vice President of the United States of America Joe Biden:

House Speaker Tip O’Neill used to say “All politics is local”, but in John Dingell’s case, all politics has always been personal. It’s only when you have a personal relationship with someone that you establish trust, even when you’re on opposite sides of an issue. Through 59 years of public service, John fought for what he believed in, and got things done through relationships and his deep respect for others.

And there was no one he respected more than his constituents. He respected their hopes, their dreams, and their values. He has been relentless in his efforts to secure for them the right to live a decent middle-class life.

He has always been a staunch advocate for health care for every American, and he has been a player on every significant piece of legislation that has helped make America a more just, fair, and free country for over half a century.

It was a privilege walking the floor of the Detroit Auto Show with John this past January. I’ve never known a man who has been a better champion of the American worker, and he deserves a great deal of credit for the resurgence of the iconic American automobile industry.

The House and the American people are losing a great public servant. But John is gaining a well-deserved retirement, and I wish him many happy years with his family.

John has always been more than Mr. Chairman to me. He’s been Dean, the longest serving Member of Congress and one of the most effective in our history. There’s never been a colleague I’ve admired more. Happy retirement, John, and thank you for your service.

Democratic candidate for Governor Mark Schauer:

John Dingell’s service to the people of Michigan will endure for generations, long after he leaves the House of Representatives. The Chairman’s work can be seen in Michigan’s clean air and water, in the auto factories that employ thousands of Michigan workers, and through the quality health care that his work made available to our kids, families, and seniors.

Serving alongside John Dingell during such a critical period in our nation’s history was truly an honor. I consider him a mentor and a friend. While I am sad to see him leaving the job he has served in with such distinction for so many years, I know John and Debbie Dingell will continue to serve the people of Michigan for many more years to come. And I look forward to working with them to build a better future for our great state.

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson:

Congressman John Dingell has been a lion in Congress, and his decades of leadership serve as an example for all of us. For many years, Congressman Dingell has worked tirelessly on our behalf – fighting to protect American automakers and workers, leading the fight for historic environmental projections, and representing hardworking people from Michigan and from around the country. He has earned the respect of his peers and of Michigan families, and he makes Michigan proud.

Congressman John Conyers:

John Dingell has set the standard for honorable leadership in the United States House of Representatives. His Democratic leadership will be sorely missed.

Congressman Dan Kildee:

One of the greatest honors of my life has been to serve in Congress with John Dingell. Through my first term in Congress, I couldn’t have asked for a better friend, role model and mentor. I’ve always been able to confide in Chairman Dingell, and have many times sat with him in his respective seat on the floor of the House of Representatives to seek his counsel and advice. Simply put, his perserverance, experience and resolve are unmatched.

As the Dean and longest-serving member of the House, he has helped to pass some of our nation’s most important laws over the last half century, including Medicare, the Civil Rights Act, rescuing our automotive industry and the Affordable Care Act. He represents the best of public service, and while he will be sorely missed in our state’s delegation, I know the legacy of his life’s work will live on for generations.

House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel:

I am extremely grateful for Congressman John Dingell’s tireless work to represent Michigan in the U.S. House of Representatives for nearly 60 years. Rep. Dingell helped guide Michigan and our nation through the expansion of civil rights, several conflicts and crises around the globe and many economic challenges and recoveries. Both Michigan and the rest of the nation are better off thanks to his leadership.

While I am sad that he has decided to not run again, I am confident that another talented Michigan leader will take the baton and continue Dingell’s legacy of guiding Michigan to a brighter future. I wish Congress’ longest-serving member and his family all of the best in coming years.

Progress Michigan Executive Director Lonnie Scott:

We here at Progress Michigan want to thank Congressman Dingell for his 58 years of service representing Michiganders in the United States Congress. During his record-setting tenure on Capitol Hill, Congressman Dingell was a champion for progressive causes like the Affordable Health Care Act, and thanks to his hard work, thousands of Michiganders can now enjoy the comfort and security of having health care coverage. As someone who grew-up and still lives in Congressman Dingell’s district, I know that his service to our state and his constituents is unrivaled. Thank you, Congressman, for all you have done, your statesmanship will be sorely missed.

AFL-CIO President Karla Swift:

Representative John Dingell is a great statesman and a true leader for working people. For almost six decades, Dingell has been a fierce champion for Michigan families and a firm advocate for American values. His legacy includes increased equality and opportunity for all citizens.

Thank you Congressman Dingell, for standing up for workers as you helped to shape our state and our nation.

AFT Michigan President David Hecker:

Congressman John Dingell has been a friend to students and educators his entire career. He has fought for quality public education, access to higher education for the children of working families, and the rights of public employees, including education employees to organize for a voice at their workplaces. His voice will be missed in Congress. We wish him well as he starts this new phase of his life, and we thank him for his service.

Michigan Laborers District Council business manager Geno Alessandrini:

The Michigan Laborers want to thank Congressman Dingell for nearly 60 years of service representing hardworking Michigander’s and Michigan’s middle class. The Congressman worked to ensure that all workers have access to quality benefits, a livable wage, a safe workplace and retirement security. We cannot thank him enough for his unparalleled dedication to defending collective bargaining rights in our state.