Key events in 'Mr. Chairman' Dingell's congressional career

The Detroit News
Former U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich.

John Dingell’s service spanned nearly a quarter of the history of the U.S. House of Representatives:

Where dad left off

1955: At age 29, John Dingell Jr. is elected to Congress in a special election, following the death of his father, a New Deal Democrat who won his seat during the Great Depression. In 1957, John Jr. introduces a bill to create national health insurance, his father's dream, and he reintroduced it in every session until the Affordable Care Act is approved in 2010.

In 1953, John Dingell Jr., center, and William J. Coughlin, left, take the oath of office from Gerald O'Brien. Dingell would serve as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Wayne County until 1955.

Key player in Medicare

1965: Dingell is asked to preside over the House when it approves the bill creating the Medicare health program for seniors by a vote of 313-115. That day, he calls for the “desperately and vitally needed” health care assistance for older citizens. He kept the gavel on display.

Dingell kept a personal and professional photo archive in his office, including this photo of President Lyndon Johnson handing him a pen after signing a bill.

Champion of environment

1970: Dingell becomes a major player in the nation's most sweeping laws that ban ocean dumping, protect endangered species and regulate air and water pollutants. One of the most important is the National Environmental Policy Act, signed in 1970 by President Richard Nixon, which requires federal agencies to consider environmental effects when making decisions.

Breaks with Nixon

1974: Dingell called for a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam in 1971. In 1974, he said he would vote to impeach Nixon in the midst of the Watergate scandal. He opposes the Nixon pardon in 1974 by his fellow Michiganian, President Gerald Ford.

Friend to automakers

1976: Dingell seeks a balance between environmental measures and auto-related regulations, clashing with environmentalists and some members of Congress. In the year of the nation’s bicentennial, he fights for a five-year delay of tougher exhaust standards under the Clean Air Act. By the early 1980s, Dingell fights against proposals to require air bags.

‘Mr. Chairman’

1981: Dingell becomes chairman of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee. For the next 27 years, he is either its chair or ranking Democrat.

Cleaning up Rouge River

1986: Dingell helps get $350 million in federal money during the next two decades to clean up the Rouge River. In 2001, President George W. Bush signs a Dingell bill creating the Detroit International Wildlife Refuge protecting fish and birds along the Detroit River. Dingell succeeds in getting Monroe’s River Raisin battlefield turned into a national park in October 2010.

Caring for veterans

1996-97: The veterans hospital in Allen Park is moved to a new facility in Detroit in 1996. The building is renamed the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in 1997 because of his long advocacy for veterans.

Former U.S. Rep. John Dingell joins the commemoration.

Primary rival crushed

2002: Redistricting throws Dingell into a primary contest with another Democrat, four-term Rep. Lynn Rivers of Ann Arbor. Dingell stresses his legislative achievements and long service. Rivers counters that with Republicans in charge, Dingell's seniority doesn't give him clout over her. Dingell wins 59-41 percent.

Loses chairmanship

2008: After the November elections, Rep. Henry Waxman of California stuns Washington by defeating Dingell for the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Dingell becomes “chairman emeritus.”

Health care milestone

2010: Dingell introduces the original “Affordable Health Care for America Act” proposal in 2009. “Today is a day that is going to rank with the day we passed the civil rights bill in 1964,” Dingell said on March 22, 2010, prior to a vote in the House, which approved the bill 219-212. Three days later, he sits at the side of Barack Obama as the president signs the Affordable Care Act into law.

President Barack Obama signs the Affordable Health Care for America Act during a ceremony with fellow Democrats in the East Room of the White House March 23, 2010 in Washington, DC. The historic bill was passed by the House of Representatives Sunday after a 14-month-long political battle that left the legislation without a single Republican vote.
 (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** James Clyburn;John Dingell;Harry Reid;Henry Waxman;Nancy Pelosi;Joe Biden;Steny Hoyer;George Miller;Charlie Rangel;Barack Obama

Historic tenure

2013: The Dearborn Democrat becomes the longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history, and the House names the Energy and Commerce Committee hearing room after him.

2014: In late November, President Barack Obama awards him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. On Dec. 11, before he cast his final vote, he was applauded by House colleagues. A day later he was admitted to a Washington, D.C., hospital.

2015: Dingell donates 600 to 700 boxes of his congressional papers to the University of Michigan Bentley Library. He forms a partnership with UM, where he was an unpaid guest lecturer and scholar in residence at the Dearborn campus.

2016: Dingell adds Donald Trump as a prominent target in his political tweets.

2018: The longest-serving member of Congress publishes "The Dean: The Best Seat in the House" (HarperCollins). He is diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Source: Detroit News research