GOP Rep. Upton receives death threats after backing bipartisan public works bill

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Republican U.S. Rep. Fred Upton said he has received well over 1,000 calls including multiple "nasty" death threats since he voted for a bipartisan infrastructure bill that he helped write with GOP and Democratic colleagues earlier this year.

More than 90% of the calls are coming from outside of Upton's southwest Michigan district, a spokesman said, including one man from South Carolina who left this message: "I hope you die. I hope everybody in your f------ family dies," while calling the longtime lawmaker a "f------ piece of s--- traitor."

"It’s tragic, especially if it leads to violence. This is not what our kids and families ought to be seeing," said Upton, who expressed concern about his staff who are taking the calls. "It’s just a polarized, toxic environment. Worse than I’ve ever seen before." 

The congressman said the calls started after his Republican colleague, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, publicly posted the names and phone numbers of Upton and a dozen other GOP House members who voted in support of the bill, calling them "traitors." 

Upton had already experienced an uptick in threats since his vote to impeach former President Donald Trump in January, and he's added security measures. But the recent surge in threats is substantial, and his office is reporting them to law enforcement.

"These are pretty nasty calls. There's no holds barred by some of these folks  — very threatening, not only to me and my family but also to the staff," Upton said. "I have never seen anything like this, and I just hope that it doesn't trigger real, physical violence. And so we take precautions."

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph

Punchbowl News reported Tuesday there's movement among some rank-and-file House Republicans to strip Upton and other GOP lawmakers who voted for the bipartisan package of their committee assignments and posts. 

Upton, who has served in Congress since 1987, defended his vote on the roughly $1 trillion package. It dedicates $550 billion in new spending for roads, bridges, public transit, rail, airports, ports, the electric grid and water infrastructure, including $15 billion for lead service line replacement.

"Remember: This is a bipartisan bill that one of (former President Donald) Trump's best friends, his best buddy Lindsey Graham, voted for in the Senate," Upton said, noting 19 GOP senators in total supported the package. 

"Former President Trump said, 'Wait til '24 and I'll get you a better deal.' You know what? We can't wait. We can't wait. We need this now. We have a crumbling infrastructure. We need broadband."  

Upton spoke to The Detroit News by phone while driving to Lansing for an event on political civility, noting the hundreds of road construction barrels he was passing along the way. 

"And look at these supply-chain issues out on the West Coast," Upton said. "Man, if that isn't a wake-up call that you need some help here ..."

The final House vote on the bipartisan package was 228-206, sending it to President Joe Biden for his signature. Michigan's six other Republicans in Congress voted no, along with Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, who objected to its being decoupled from a larger social spending and climate package.

Under the legislation, Michigan would receiveabout $10 billion in federal funding over five years, including $7.3 billion from federal highway programs and $563 million for bridge replacement and repairs, according to White House estimates based on transportation funding formulas. 

Michigan is also slated to receive over five years an additional $1 billion to improve public transit and $1.3 billion to improve water infrastructure, including lead service line replacement, under traditional funding formulas. The state will get $100 million to expand access to high-speed broadband internet.

The White House further estimated that over five years Michigan would get $363 million for airport infrastructure, $110 million toward an electric vehicle charging network,  and $23 million to guard against wildfires and $24 million to protect against cyberattacks.

Upton lamented that the bipartisan package had been politicized in recent weeks, accusing some Democrats of holding the bill "hostage" to extract leverage on their $1.75 trillion social safety net and climate package. 

Upton and other Republican lawmakers are wholly opposed to the larger package, known as the Build Back Better Act. 

"I'm against it. But we're weeks away from seeing how this concludes, I hope it never gets to the finish line," Upton said. "But no longer are they connected, which is one of the arguments that was being used to oppose this."

Several Michigan Republicans said they voted no on the bipartisan measure in part for that reason, saying the House Democrats were mistaken to link passage of the bipartisan bill with a procedural vote on Build Back Better. 

"Because Democratic leadership chose to let progressives take the reins and link the procedural vote for BBB to passage of the infrastructure bill, I had no choice but to vote against both," GOP Rep. Peter Meijer of Grand Rapids Township said in a statement.

"Our country desperately needs commonsense infrastructure investments, and I am deeply frustrated that Democrats chose to play petty politics with such a critical issue."

Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Holland, called the bipartisan measure a bridge to the "land of reckless spending." 

"I will not support legislation that spends more than necessary and opens the door for trillions upon trillions of spending on liberal and socialist priorities," he said. 

mburke@detroitnews.com