Upton sought out Omar to express support after they both received 'nasty' death threats

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Michigan Republican U.S. Rep. Fred Upton sought out his colleague, Rep. Ilhan Omar, on the House floor this week to express solidarity after they both received "nasty" death threats in recent weeks, he said. 

Upton noted it was the first time he'd ever spoken to Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota who is often the target of other Republicans in Upton's conference.

"I said, ‘I don’t know you all that well. We’ve never talked…You can’t see my smile, but I’m smiling behind this mask,'" Upton said, recalling the conversation during a Friday interview with Washington Post Live.

U.S. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, talks to campaign staff in Portage on Oct. 3, 2020.

He jokingly told Omar that he wondered if the same man who left him a death threat last month was the same who had left her a threatening voicemail this week, because he "used the same words against me." 

"'I wonder if it’s the same person?'" Upton said lightheartedly. "So she started laughing. We had a good conversation. You got to sort of put it in that light. But on the seriousness of stuff, I'm really afraid someone's gonna get hurt."

Upton has reported he received a number of threats after he was one of 13 House Republicans last month to vote for the bipartisan infrastructure package. The threats came in after another Republican colleague, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, publicly posted the names and phone numbers of Upton and other GOP members who voted in support of the bill, calling them "traitors." 

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

Upton sought out Omar the day after she held a news conference where she played a recording of a threatening voicemail for reporters: "We see you Muslim sand-n----- bitch, we know what you're up to. You're all about taking over our country. ... You jihadist. We know what you are. You’re a f---ing traitor. You will not live much longer." 

Omar's threat followed clashes with Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colorado, over her Islamaphobic comments about Omar — one of three Muslim members of Congress. 

"We can disagree on the issues, and we do even within our own caucus, but it doesn't mean you have to be disagreeable," Upton told the Post."And when you have some bomb-throwers on both sides that are really nasty, that's unfortunate because that, frankly, gives Congress a pretty bad name."

Rep. Ilhan Omar.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, was present for the Upton-Omar conversation on the House floor and said the point was how no member of Congress should treat threats as acceptable behavior. 

"We are two people who believe in civility," said Dingell, whose Dearborn office was broken into and vandalized this week. "He's been rattled and was trying to stand up for what is right." 

She said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, also joined the discussion and joked that they should start a caucus for members who get death threats. 

Upton 'not moving' for redistricting

Upton, who has served three decades in Congress, also said Friday he's "not moving" from his home in St. Joseph as a result of the ongoing redistricting process in Michigan. 

The redistricting commission's proposed maps would significantly alter Upton's district in southwest Michigan and draw him in with a colleague, Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Holland.

Upton said again that he won't make a decision on whether to seek reelection until the commission finalizes the new U.S. House lines.

"We've never announced the year ahead," he said. "But in Michigan, frankly, we don't know what our districts are going to look like yet."

It's unclear if running against a colleague in a GOP primary would deter either Upton or Huizenga from a run in the new lakeshore district proposed by the commission. 

Buttons seen at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference indicate U.S. Rep. Fred Upton will run again in 2022.

Upton has already drawn primary challengers from supporters of former President Donald Trump, whom Upton voted to impeach earlier this year for his role in instigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Huizenga voted against impeachment.

Upton noted there's a good chance his county, Berrien, will be split up and that the new district will stretch "200 miles long and 20 miles wide." 

"Who knows? I'm not moving," said Upton, who grew up in St. Joseph. "I've got a lot of family there. We do well. We'll decide once we know what the district looks like, what the environment is like."

He added: "I just know that I'm not afraid to vote my conscience on issues and, frankly, I wish we had a little bit more of that across the country."