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Rep. John Dingell, who championed the auto industry, to retire

'The time has come,' he says

Dingell: "I don't want people to say I stayed too long."

UPDATED: 2/24/14 4:44 pm ET

WASHINGTON (Bloomberg) -- John Dingell, the longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history and staunch ally to the U.S. auto industry, plans to retire at the end of his current term.

"The time has come," the Michigan Democrat said to the Southern Wayne County Regional Chamber of Commerce today.

Dingell, 87, has served alongside 11 presidents. He has been a member of the House of Representatives for 58 years, which is longer than President Barack Obama and about half of the current House members have been alive.

Dingell has been an advocate of U.S. automakers and manufacturing jobs, and a longtime supporter of national health insurance and oversight of government agencies.

"Congressman Dingell's legendary support for the American auto industry in the United States House of Representatives has truly been second to none," said Matt Blunt, president of the American Automotive Policy Council, a Washington public policy group founded by Chrysler Group, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors.

Blunt said today the group planned to keep working with Dingell until he retires "to create jobs in Michigan and strengthen the U.S. manufacturing economy."

Dingell presided over House proceedings that led to passage of the 2010 health care law. He wielded the same gavel he used during the debate over the creation of Medicare more than 40 years earlier.

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne met with Dingell at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

He was a co-author of the Clean Air Act of 1990, which clamped down further on tailpipe emissions from cars, and the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975, which created the United States' first corporate average fuel economy standards in the wake of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo.

As the chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee from 1981 to 1994 and 2007 to 2008, he wielded substantial influence over many suggested legislative changes that would affect the auto industry.

Dingell was a supporter of the government bailout of GM and Chrysler in 2008, but has often been critical of fully opening up the U.S. market to foreign imports, arguing that it has hurt Detroit's auto industry and thus weakened the U.S. economy.

For example, as a supporter of the Cash for Clunkers scrappage program that the Obama administration put in place in 2009, Dingell protested to President Obama, saying a similar program in Japan was not as open to American cars as the American program was to Japanese cars.

"It was a privilege walking the floor of the Detroit Auto Show with John this past January," Vice President Joe Biden said today. "I've never known a man who has been a better champion of the American worker, and he deserves a great deal of credit for the resurgence of the iconic American automobile industry."

Dingell's also been a critic of the slowing pace of congressional action.

"This Congress has been a great disappointment to everyone, members, media, citizens and our country," said Dingell. "There will be much blaming and finger pointing back and forth, but the members share fault, much fault; the people share much fault, for encouraging a disregard of our country, our Congress, and our governmental system."

Dingell's wife, Debbie Dingell, 60, former vice chairman of the General Motors Foundation and former executive director of global community relations and government relations at GM, is expected to run for Michigan's 12th Congressional District, political experts told The Detroit News.

Automotive News Staff Reporter Gabe Nelson contributed to this report.

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