Washington — President Barack Obama is awarding U.S. Rep. John Dingell of Dearborn, the longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history, the nation's highest civilian honor: the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Dingell, 88, did not seek a record-setting 30th full term in the House this fall: His wife, Debbie Dingell, was elected to succeed him. He has been a member of Congress for more than 58 years.

Dingell and musician Stevie Wonder, a native Michiganian, are among 19 people receiving the award this year. It is presented to people who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

"There are few words that could accurately describe my thoughts and feelings in receiving this wonderful honor," Dingell said in a statement issued Monday. "It is especially meaningful to me to receive this recognition alongside such a distinguished and diverse group of individuals that truly represents the ideals and values that have made this nation great.

"I am most humbled by this recognition, and I thank President Obama for his kindness in awarding me this prestigious honor."

The awards will be presented at the White House Nov. 24.

The White House, in its announcement, called Dingell "one of the most influential legislators in history." His legacy includes championing landmark legislation, from civil rights laws in the 1960s, to laws protecting the environment in the 1970s, to what the White House called "his persistent, determined fight for health care throughout his career."

Colleagues lauded Dingell on Monday.

"Few Americans have left a more lasting imprint on the U.S. Congress and the laws of our nation than John Dingell," said U.S. Rep. Sander Levin of Royal Oak. "Whether it was his role in health care reform, the auto industry or protecting the environment, during his six decades in Congress John Dingell has led through both tenacity and humor. Our nation is profoundly better off because of his great service."

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing in a press release said: "This prestigious honor is a fitting tribute to John Dingell's lifetime of public service standing up for Michigan families. Known as America's watchdog, his accomplishments have impacted so many of our country's landmark laws including the Civil Rights Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act and health care reform. His service will have a positive impact on Americans for generations to come."

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