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Longest-serving US congressman quits

WASHINGTON--The longest-serving member of the U.S. Congress called it quits after 58 years in office Monday, drawing the curtain on a career that began before U.S. President Barack Obama was born.

John Dingell, 87, told attendees at a chamber of commerce lunch in Michigan that the “time has come” for him to step down.

His not seeking a 30th term in November means next year will mark the first time since 1933 that there will be no Dingell in the House of Representatives.

The Democrat won his father's seat after John Dingell Senior died in office.

“I'm not going to be carried out feet first,” Dingell told the Detroit News. “I don't want people to say I stayed too long.”

Dingell became the longest-serving U.S. lawmaker last June when he began his 20,997th day in office, breaking a record set by the late Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

Obama hailed the congressman as “one of the most influential legislators of all time.”

“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,” Obama said.

'Time to cash it in'

Dingell, who has served under 11 presidents, beginning with Dwight Eisenhower, said he has grown disillusioned with today's Congress and that he now finds it “obnoxious” to serve in the House.

“This is not the Congress I know and love,” he said. “It's hard for me to accept, but it's time to cash it in.”

The hard-nosed legislator, who once made Republican adversaries or witnesses at his hearings quiver in their wingtips, claimed the seat that his father held for more than two decades aged only 29.

Dingell is also said to have been in the House chamber as a young page to see president Franklin Roosevelt give his “Day of Infamy” address calling for a declaration of war on Japan.

Last year, Dingell told AFP that he had begun to sour on the partisan gridlock that has come to symbolize the 21st century Congress.

“In the old days there were rules, comity was practiced and compromise was not a dirty word,” he said at the time.

“Today, you're sent down here to fight, not work.”

While he makes a point of remaining civil with colleagues, Dingell has had his share of battles.

As chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee for 13 years until 1994 he wielded tremendous power.

The committee's current chairman, Republican and fellow Michigan native Fred Upton, applauded Dingell's political mastery as well as his sense of fairness and across-the-aisle partnership.

“By any standard, he will not only be viewed as the 'Dean of the House,' but also one with an incredible record of getting the job done,” Upton said.

The man who once brought a shotgun into the White House — he was lending it to president Bill Clinton so they could go duck hunting — takes things more slowly now,

He often putters down the hallways in a motorized cart that has “The Dean” emblazoned on its license plate.

With the congressman retiring, his wife Debbie Dingell, 60, is expected to run for the seat, according to the Detroit News.

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U.S. Rep. John Dingell, left, and his wife Debbie hold hands during a legislative forum at the Southern Wayne County Regional Chamber (SWCRC) at the Crystal Gardens in Southgate, Michigan on Monday, Feb. 24

(AP)

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