National Press Club

Dingell: 'Compromise is not a dirty word'

June 27, 2014 | By Heather Forsgren Weaver | HeatherForsgrenWeaver@gmail.com

In a farewell address, Rep. John Dingell (l), D-Mich., told a National Press Club audience of time when Washington worked. Club President Myron Belkind (r) moderated the Q&A.

In a farewell address, Rep. John Dingell (l), D-Mich., told a National Press Club audience of time when Washington worked. Club President Myron Belkind (r) moderated the Q&A.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

The longest serving member of the House of Representatives told a National Press Club luncheon audience on June 27 that the meaning of the word "Congress" captures what the body is meant to do -- and has done during less partisan times.

“I often remind my colleagues of the very definition of the word Congress,” said Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich. “It means coming together. It means a body which has come together and it is a part of the historic understandings that this country had when we had a Congress which worked.”

Dingell announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election. He was invited to give a farewell address, said Club President Myron Belkind, “but he said he’s not done working or governing yet.” Instead, Dingell said he would give a speech about “when Congress worked.”

Business was accomplished when it was done with “hard fighting but also with good will and mutual respect,” Dingell said.

Dingell once helped pass a series of amendments to the Clean Air Act. The final vote was 401 to 21. “It took me 13 hours to get a bill that both sides agreed to on the floor but it took me 13 years to do the work to make that possible,” he said.

Dingell was adamant in countering the notion that compromise is wrong.

“Compromise is not a dirty word and it is not an evil thing. Conciliation is not a bad idea. Cooperation is not an unspeakable act,” he said.

Although Dingell seemed to blame the Republicans for the intransigent Congress, he admitted during the question and answer session that Democrats were also culpable.

But it was not just Democrats. “The news media, the public at large, the citizenry in general” all share in the blame, he said.

Dingell was 29 in 1955, when he succeeded his father in Congress. This was “the same year that the first McDonald’s opened and it was the first year you could get Coca-Cola in a can,” Belkind said in his introduction.

Over the years, Dingell saw Washington grow in stature.

“I have had the privilege of watching Washington change from a little town in the woods to a major city of international proportions,” Dingell said. “I have had the privilege of serving with – not under and not for – 11 presidents from [Dwight D.] Eisenhower to [Barack] Obama.”

Dingell has cast about 25,000 votes and “served alongside more than 2,400 colleagues,” he said.

In all of that time, Dingell’s relationship with the press is “about the same,” he said, but the “business of the House has been a little corrupted because it is interesting to note that relationship with the media is generally one that scares members of the House.”

Dingell’s final advice for the press corps: “Know the answer before you ask” the question, he said.

Dingell has appeared at six previous Club luncheons dating back to March 7, 1975.