In Detroit, the congressional dean passes his torch

Detroit, MI – It was a morning that featured plenty of applause. But John Dingell, hands down, received the biggest round.

When the 88-year-old congressman took the podium Wednesday morning at the post-primary Democratic Unity breakfast held at Wayne State University, it marked the beginning of a long-anticipated transition.

But Dingell’s remarks sounded little like those of a retiring statesman, and instead struck a tone that sounded more like an excited campaigner gearing up for one last battle.

“The challenge is yours, the challenge is ours. The hopes of the country rests with us. Are we up to it?” Dingell told the 100 or so Michigan Democrats gathered for the breakfast. “We are here to win the next election. We need to get those Republicans out of Lansing. And get them out of Washington!”

The longest-serving member of Congress was passing on the torch, with his wife Debbie formally nominated as the Democratic nominee to replace him in his left-leaning district and his colleague John Conyers eager to take on the role of “Dean of the House.”

But, as anyone who has interacted with Dingell would expect, he had a few more things to say before yielding the microphone.

Dingell dressed down House Republicans, focusing his 10-minute remarks largely on the infighting that has characterized GOP control of the House since 2010.

“It’s the strangest party that I’ve ever seen, the Republicans. They’re so busy fighting each other they don’t have time to fight the Democrats,” Dingell declared. “You kind of feel sorry for John Boehner, who is a very decent man, 'cause he has to deal with all of those crackpots.”

The dream of a Democratic majority colored the comments of Conyers, who faced an electoral scare earlier this year when he initially failed to turn in enough signatures to get on the ballot.

But once he secured a ballot spot, Conyers – who has been in the House since 1965 -- coasted to victory.

He said he hopes his time as Congress's longest serving member will be remembered as a period in which the Democrats can take back the House.

“I see a lot of opportunity here. I’m looking for a Democratic resurgence nationally” Conyers said in an interview with the Post following the breakfast. “The Republicans…seem to have had a lot of turmoil.”

He, like Dingell, said that House Democrats must take advantage of infighting between the GOP House leadership and the more conservative wing of the Republican Party in order to win back the House in future years.

“That’s still ongoing, and that’s where our opportunity comes in. The tea party is willing to take the Republican moderates over the cliff. They’ve made that pretty clear.”

Wesley Lowery covers Capitol Hill for The Fix and Post Politics.
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