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Dingell Hits Milestone in the House

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) became the fourth longest-serving Member of the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday, surpassing former Rep. Sam Rayburn (D-Texas), at 48 years, eight months and 26 days in office.

Dingell is now the sixth longest-serving Member of Congress in history and currently one of only four standing Members with a 40-plus-year tenure in Congress — including Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). Dingell holds the second-longest tenure of any standing Member today, surpassed only by Byrd, who at 86 is the senior-most Member of both houses with more than 51 years in office.

“I never expected to be in Congress this long,” said Dingell, who attributes his longevity in the House to “hard work, good luck and a very tolerant, lovely wife.”

Dingell first worked on Capitol Hill as a House page in 1938, when his father, then-Rep. John Dingell Sr., was representing a Detroit-area district. After serving in World War II and paying his way through Georgetown Law School by working as an elevator operator in the U.S. Capitol, the younger Dingell eventually succeeded his father in the U.S. House of Representatives following his death in 1955.

That year, Dingell was sworn in alongside Rayburn, the man whose record he has broken.

Rayburn “was one of the most able legislators I’ve ever known,” Dingell said Thursday. “You see from his life-size statue in the foyer of Rayburn [House Office Building] that he was a little guy, but to me he was 12 feet high.”

Now an honored veteran of Congress himself, Dingell counts his work on environmental protection legislation — including the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammals Protection Act — as one highlight of his career. And serving in Washington for almost five decades, he says, has been a privilege unto itself.

“I’ve been through depressions and wars,” he said. “I’ve served with 10 presidents and have had the privilege of knowing two others — Roosevelt and Truman. I’ve had the honor of working with giants in both the House and Senate.

“What I’ve learned is that we are the most fortunate race in the history of mankind, with a government that is nearest to perfect as you can find on the planet.”

Today, Dingell’s record-breaking run in Congress may be far from over. If re-elected in November, the 24-term Congressman will serve another two years to become the second longest-serving U.S. Representative ever, surpassing former Reps. Emanuel Celler (D-N.Y.) and 50-year veteran Carl Vinson (D-Ga.) in February 2006. Dingell was elected in 2002 with 72 percent of the vote in Michigan’s 15th district.

“We’re looking toward 2004 right now,” said Dingell, who had yet to celebrate his 48-year career benchmark on Thursday. “And we’re working away, as usual.”

Former Rep. Jamie Whitten (D-Miss.) is the longest-serving Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, at 53 years, two months and 13 days in office. Former Rep. and Sen. Carl Hayden (D-Ariz.) is the longest-serving Member of Congress of all time, at 56 years, 10 months and 28 days in office.