Dingell relished role of Trump Twitter heckler

By: - February 8, 2019 10:58 am

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel standing with The Honorable John D. Dingell after presenting him with the Lincoln Medal at the Ford’s Theatre Annual Gala Washington, D.C. June 22, 2014. | DoD photo by Casper Manlangit, released

WASHINGTON — John Dingell was among President Trump’s most enthusiastic Twitter foes.

Dingell, who died Thursday at age 92, went from being a congressional icon to a social media icon. He had attracted nearly 260,000 Twitter followers, whom he lured with his signature snark about topics ranging from Michigan sports to political news.

The longest-serving member of Congress in history, Dingell had a reputation on Capitol Hill for belittling his opponents during his decades as a powerful committee chair. And the Dearborn Democrat never minced words about his disdain for the president.

In his memoir, “The Dean,” published in December, Dingell labeled Trump “unfit to serve.” He went on, “He demeans the office of president of the United States and he is a daily embarrassment to our nation.”

Just days before his death, Dingell criticized Trump for weighing in on the scandal unfolding in Virginia after revelations that Gov. Ralph Northam had dressed in blackface years ago.

Trump had tweeted, “Ed Gillespie, who ran for Governor of the Great State of Virginia against Ralph Northam, must now be thinking Malpractice and Dereliction of Duty with regard to his Opposition Research Staff. If they find that terrible picture before the election, he wins by 20 points!”

Dingell shot back, “Buddy, I think you might want to sit this one out.”

As of this story’s publication, Trump had not acknowledged Dingell’s passing. That’s not unusual for Trump, who frequently disregards presidential protocols and traditions and is known for nursing grudges. He still reportedly mocks U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who died last year after a bout of brain cancer.

In January, Dingell tweeted a photo of Trump surrounded by stacks of hamburgers when he was welcoming the Clemson Tigers football team to the White House. Dingell wrote, “Big Macs. Small hands. A nation’s embarrassment.”

And in December, after Trump tweeted a picture of a proposed U.S. border wall topped with sharp spikes, Dingell responded, “Sit on it, you imbecile.”

The heckling started even before Trump’s election. In August 2016, Trump wrote after Britain’s decision to exit the European Union: “They will soon be calling me MR. BREXIT!”

Dingell replied, “You misspelled Bullshit. And we’ve been calling you that for a while now.”

His last tweet was on Wednesday: “The Lovely Deborah is insisting I rest and stay off here, but after long negotiations we’ve worked out a deal where she’ll keep up with Twitter for me as I dictate the messages. I want to thank you all for your incredibly kind words and prayers. You’re not done with me just yet.”

Before he sparred with his political opponents on Twitter, he spent decades mastering the craft in Congress. He represented Michigan in the House for almost 60 years, spending about 30 years as the top Democrat on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee.

There, he was known for sending “Dingellgrams,” letters demanding documents from government officials.

“They were long and detailed, and asked tough, probing questions,” he wrote in his memoir. “In short, they were dreaded by their recipients.”

In Robert Draper’s 2012 book on the tea party and Congress, “Do Not Ask What Good We Do,” there’s one anecdote about a staffer uncomfortably telling Dingell the other sexual meaning of the term “tea-baggers” before he went on a late night talk show. Dingell first laughed and then said, “That’s disgusting.”

Finally, the then-octogenarian declared, “But it’s funny, and I’m going to keep using it.”

Dingell, who reveled in his role as a combative congressman, wrote that he always thought he’d be carried out of the House chamber “feet first.”

He joined Congress in 1955, after his father, John Dingell Sr., died. The younger Dingell won a special election to take his seat.

During a scooter race in the House nearly six decades later, he thought to himself, “Dingell … when in the hell did you get to be so damned old?'” he wrote.

He decided to retire.

“The idea of quitting was antithetical to me,” he wrote. “I felt that I would be letting them down,” he said of his constituents.

“Still, I knew it was time. I’d accomplished much of what my father set out to achieve, and more.”

Advance Editor Susan J. Demas contributed to this story.

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Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.