Lawmakers honor Dingell at 30K feet after plane turns back

By Anna Clark and Felicia Sonmez | Washington Post

DEARBORN, Mich. – Former colleagues including Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.; Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich.; and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, paid tribute to John Dingell at 30,000 feet on Tuesday as their flight to Michigan for the lawmaker’s funeral was turned back due to wintry weather.

The funeral for Dingell, the longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history, went ahead with former Vice President Joe Biden eulogizing the Michigan Democrat.

“Dignity was how John walked. Dignity was how John talked. Dignity was how John carried himself. And more than that, it was how he treated everyone – and I mean everyone,” Biden said.

Dingell died Feb. 7 at the age of 92. He had complications from prostate cancer.

According to two Democratic aides, the two military transport planes taking lawmakers to the funeral were unable to land in Detroit due to bad weather and were forced to return to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.

Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., tweeted that lawmakers held an “impromptu service at 30,000 feet” for Dingell, led by Lewis, Upton and Pelosi.

“After a delayed start we took off for #Detroit & circled there for an hour waiting for the temperature to rise one degree,” Long said in the tweet. “It didn’t and we’re back at @Andrews_JBA.”

Several other lawmakers, including Michigan’s Democratic Sen. Gary Peters (D.) and Reps. Daniel Kildee and Haley Stevens, tweeted that they were disappointed their plane was turned around and that they were unable to make it to the funeral.

“We shared a prayer for him in the sky, and felt a bit closer to the Dean in heaven,” Stevens said in a tweet, referring to Dingell’s title as the longest-serving House member.

Dingell served in Congress from 1955 until he retired in 2015.

In a piece for The Washington Post dictated to his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., before his death, Dingell urged lawmakers to never lose sight of the fact that they serve at the will of the people.

“In democratic government, elected officials do not have power,” he said. “They hold power – in trust for the people who elected them. If they misuse or abuse that public trust, it is quite properly revoked (the quicker the better).”

In his eulogy, Biden told those in attendance that Dingell “fought like hell” for others and said that so many were mourning the Michigan Democrat not because they necessarily knew him, but “because they knew John knew them.”

“He gave me confidence. He made me believe more in myself than I had. John had that special capacity to do so, because when you were with him, you knew you were with greatness,” Biden said.

Dingell first entered Congress after he won a special election to replace his father, John D. Dingell Sr., who died of tuberculosis while in office. Biden told the crowd Tuesday that Dingell often remarked to his colleagues on Capitol Hill, “If I can be half the man my father was, I shall feel I’m a great success.”

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