Michigan GOP Rep. Upton on Guard after Receiving Death Threats over Vote for Infrastructure Bill

Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton says he’s taking extra precautions after callers, egged on by GOP House members, left voicemails threatening him, his family and his staff because of his vote to approve President Biden’s infrastructure plan.

(Editor’s note: This web story contains strong language.)

Only 13 Republicans joined a majority of Democrats in the U.S. House to pass President Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan.

But some of those Republicans, like Michigan Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph), are paying a price for their vote.

A GOP congressional colleague purposely released the phone numbers of Upton and the other Republicans who voted for the plan.

“We need to catch up to the rest of the world. This bill will do that.” –Michigan Rep. Fred Upton

Upton’s office then began receiving angry voicemails, several with a clearly threatening tone.

“F**king traitor. That’s what you are. You’re a f**king piece of s**t traitor,” one caller said in a voicemail released by Upton’s office. “I hope you die. I hope everybody in your f**king family dies. You f**king piece of s**t trash motherf**ker.  You voted for d*****s f**king Biden? You’re stupider than he is. I hope your f**king family dies. I hope everybody in your f**king staff dies, you f**cking piece of f**cking s**t. Traitor!”

Upton says that particular message appears to have come from a caller in South Carolina, a bit ironic since both senators in that state are Republicans who supported Biden’s infrastructure package.

In fact, Upton estimates that 90% of the threatening messages come from out-of-state callers. And Upton contends that far from being “traitorous” to the GOP, the original idea for the infrastructure plan was hatched in a completely bipartisan manner led by Republican governor, Larry Hogan, who gathered lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to define infrastructure and how to pay for it.

Listen: Michigan U.S. Rep. Fred Upton on the infrastructure package and governing amid death threats.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) (edited for clarity and brevity): We had a long debate as to how we should pay for it, because we didn’t want to simply add it to the debt, unlike the COVID packages that passed under both Trump and Biden. We said, “No, we want to pay for it. We don’t want to add to the debt.” So we came up with “pay fors” without raising taxes. And that was the very blueprint that passed the Senate last August, 69-30. We need infrastructure. I’m driving from Grand Rapids to Lansing and I’ve probably seen about 5,000 orange barrels along the way. We need it here in Michigan, we need it around the country. Benton Harbor, the mayor’s replacing some of the lead service lines to residences that we need to get done. And there’s $15 billion in this bill to replace lead service lines around the country. You look at China, they’ve spent more money in the last three years on infrastructure than we spent in the last 100. If we’re gonna keep up, we have supply chain needs because the ports are in tough shape. You look at our roads and highways and bridges, you look at broadband, which is a relatively new need. But certainly with COVID we know the importance of broadband, whether it’s through telemedicine or simply ordering a pizza, you got to have it in both rural as well as urban areas. I can remember, when COVID first hit, me with a number of students from Michigan State and they said don’t come back to classes. One young man from my home county said, “Well, that’s just great. We don’t have broadband where I live. What am I going to do, go to McDonald’s?” We need to catch up to the rest of the world. This bill will do that.

Quinn Klinefelter, WDET News: Now you mentioned that it would not be adding to the debt. There are some of your Republican colleagues that had brought up concerns about the cost. But you’re confident that it will be all paid for?

There’s a lot of confusion between a couple of different bills. The president had an infrastructure bill that was much broader than this one. This was limited to $1.2 trillion. Biden said that it was going to be paid for. The first “pay for” was they undid many of the Trump tax cuts, which was certainly a nonstarter with any Republican House or Senate member. Then they thought about a wealth tax that really had quite a number of hurdles. That bill started at $3.5 trillion. Now, it’s probably a little bit under $2 trillion. But it’s weeks away from getting to any finish line to get done.

“Not only did [a caller] threaten me physically, but my family, my staff. Our offices are actually closed because of the threats that are there. That’s not the way that we ought to be governing. This was a bipartisan bill.” — Michigan Rep. Fred Upton 

When you talk about the cost of your vote on the infrastructure bill, it actually cost you some grief among fellow members of the GOP.

I’ve got a couple of colleagues who put our phone numbers out with the names. And we’ve got quite a few calls, a number of them nasty, very threatening. They’ll probably be hearing from a law enforcement officer at some point. It’s very unsettling. Not only did he threaten me physically, but my family, my staff. Our offices are actually closed because of the threats that are there. That’s not the way that we ought to be governing. This was a bipartisan bill, a need that I think most Americans would say [you] need to get something done, particularly if it’s bipartisan.

As you say, some of these calls were very threatening. You actually played some over the TV. And you had your own Republicans calling you a traitor and that “This is gonna lead to a socialist takeover of the country.” It must be rough to try to push any legislation through on any kind of a bipartisan basis in the face of this, from either side of the aisle.

Well, that’s one of the reasons why I’m a member of the bipartisan caucus called the Problem Solvers caucus. We meet routinely. There’s five [U.S. House] members actually here in Michigan. Debbie Dingell, myself, Peter Meijer, Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens. We’re all active members. We want to govern, we want to get things done. We have divided government and if you want to get something done, you really have to work together to get it done. My background goes back to when I worked for President Reagan at the White House. Republican president, a Democratic Congress. He was reelected with 49 states because he really did get things done. He worked with both sides of the aisle.

They used to talk about how Reagan would go and have big arguments with the Speaker at the time, it was a Democrat, Tip O’Neill. And then afterwards, they’d go out and have a drink later. Now sometimes it seems like Democrats and Republicans can’t be seen with each other without somebody screeching “traitor.” Do you ever see it going back to the way it was?

I hope it changes back. I’ve never seen anything so divided and toxic as today. COVID got a little part of this because we’ve had to be separated, [you] don’t get to know people as well. Even voting is changed because of COVID. We’ve had two colleagues die, 40 or 50 have come down with it, some pretty serious. So [there’s] a lot of precautions. Our buildings are closed to visitors and hearings are pretty closed, you got to use Zoom and it’s a lot different. But the toxicity is way high. Particularly when they go after your family or your staff. Really very disturbing.

You’re a public servant. How long do you want to serve the public in that kind of an atmosphere?

Well, I’ve been lucky so far. It’s something that you think about. We’ve made changes, our schedules [are] not public anymore. Do a number of different things just to try and stay ahead of someone who might want to do something. It’s something that’s in the back of your mind.

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  • Quinn Klinefelter is a Senior News Editor at 101.9 WDET. In 1996, he was literally on top of the news when he interviewed then-Senator Bob Dole about his presidential campaign and stepped on his feet.