US & Canada

Longest-serving US congressman John Dingell dies aged 92

John Dingell. Photo: February 2014 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption John Dingell served during the terms of 11 US presidents

John Dingell, the longest serving congressman in US history, has died aged 92.

"He was a lion of the United States Congress and a loving son, father, husband, grandfather, and friend," the office of his wife Debbie Dingell said.

The Michigan Democrat was a driving force behind many key liberal laws, notably health programmes.

He was first elected in 1955, serving in the House of Representatives for the next 59 years. He retired in 2015.

After leaving Congress, he closely followed all the twists and turns of US politics, often deploying Twitter to express his position on major issues.

His last post was the day before his death, in which he wrote: "You're not done with me just yet."

Mr Dingell died peacefully on Thursday in his home in Dearborn, Michigan.

"It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of John David Dingell, Jr., former Michigan Congressman and longest-serving member of the United States Congress," Debbie Dingell's office said in a statement.

It said that Mr Dingell's wife, who was elected to the House in 2015 to succeed him, was at his side.

"He will be remembered for his decades of public service to the people of Southeast Michigan, his razor sharp wit, and a lifetime of dedication to improving the lives of all who walk this earth," the statement added.

Mrs Dingell did not attend President Donald Trump's State of the Union address on Tuesday, deciding to stay with her husband as his health deteriorated.

Mr Trump ordered the US flag lowered to half-staff at the White House and all public and military buildings as "a mark of respect for the memory and longstanding service" of Mr Dingell.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had earlier said flags at the Capitol would fly at half-staff on Friday.

The House also observed a moment of silence for Mr Dingell.

'I don't want people to be sorry for me'

Mr Dingell was 29 when he won a special election for his father's seat after the latter's sudden death in 1955.

Former President Barack Obama has described him as one of the most influential legislators of all time.

Mr Dingell served through the terms of 11 US presidents.

Explaining his decision to retire in 2015, he said back then: "I don't want people to be sorry for me. I don't want to be going out feet-first and I don't want to do less than an adequate job."

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption In 2014, John Dingell was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama

He had said his single most important vote in Congress was for the sweeping 1964 Civil Rights Act, which among other provisions forbade discrimination in employment based on race and sex. The vote almost cost him the next election.

He also played a key role in the creation of Medicare, the government-sponsored health programme for the elderly and disabled and was an early supporter of universal healthcare legislation, including President Obama's 2010 healthcare law.

Twitter icon

Mr Dingell's first brush with social media fame began with a 2014 viral tweet involving the Kardashians and an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mistake.

According to the Washington Post, the now-deleted EPA tweet had included a link to a Kim Kardashian mobile app, to which Mr Dingell replied: "You OK, @EPAwater?"

The next day, Mr Dingell informed Twitter that he had been educated as to what a Kardashian is, but was "only left with more questions".

In between his sports and pop culture tweets full of dry humour, Mr Dingell also offered sharp, succinct criticisms of the president and his administration.

Following news of Mr Dingell's death, fans on Twitter have mourned the loss of one of the social media platform's best users.

What's the reaction?

Mr Trump said as the longest serving congressman, Mr Dingell "was very smart" and had "a great reputation".

Mr Obama called Mr Dingell an inspiring American whose life "reminds us that change does not always come with a flash, but instead with a steady, determined effort".

Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said they were "grateful to have had the chance to work with him, to celebrate his becoming the longest-serving member of Congress in history, and most of all, to call him our friend".

Former President George W Bush also offered his condolences, saying he was able to speak with Mr Dingell on Thursday, and thanked him for his service.

Mrs Pelosi called Mr Dingell a "beloved pillar of the Congress" who left behind "a towering legacy of unshakeable strength, boundless energy and transformative leadership".

Civil rights leader and Mr Dingell's congressional colleague John Lewis said: "This nation has lost one of the great legislators of our time."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Mr Dingell was "admired for his patriotism, his humour and his commitment to public service".

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