'This is it for me': Upton plans to retire from U.S. House, won't face Huizenga in primary

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Longtime Michigan Republican U.S. Rep. Fred Upton said Tuesday he will retire from the House at the end of his term after nearly 36 years in office, ending speculation about his political future that had swirled for months. 

The St. Joseph lawmaker made the announcement on the House floor, bringing to a close months of indecision by Upton, who, at 68, is Michigan's most senior lawmaker in Congress — a moderate conservative first elected to the U.S. House in 1986. 

"Even the best stories has a last chapter: This is it for me," Upton said.

In an email sent to supporters and friends Tuesday, Upton cited "very positive" poll numbers and sounded upbeat about his upcoming primary against U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga of Holland, but said he'd decided "it is time to pass the torch."

His retirement would be a substantial blow to Michigan's clout in the House of Representatives at a time when Republicans are poised to take back the majority in the fall midterm elections.

From the House floor Tuesday, Upton said efforts to work across the aisle and maintain civility have been his "guiding light" over his nearly 36 years in government. 

He thanked his family and Southwest Michigan constituents who placed their "faith and confidence in me all these great years."  

"These folks are truly the salt of the earth and I love them all, I really do, even the few that don’t always like me," Upton said. 

"As a former Boy Scout, I believe in leaving the campground better than one found it," he added. "I’ve worked with seven administrations, seven House speakers, none of them would call me a rubber stamp. If it’s good policy for Michigan, it’s good enough for all of us.”

The St. Joseph Republican formerly chaired the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee and has served on House GOP leadership's powerful steering committee that determines committee assignments for lawmakers.

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

Jason Watts, an Upton ally and west Michigan-based political consultant, said Upton’s decision Tuesday represented him ending his distinguished career on his own terms.

Upton did not endorse Huizenga in his Tuesday floor speech or email to supporters. In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Huizenga thanked Upton for his service to Michigan and said his "statesman-like legacy will be remembered both in Michigan and our nation's capital."

Upton's Democratic colleague U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn thanked Upton from the House floor and noted that throughout his career, "he has always put the people he served first." 

"It is his civility that I and Congress will miss the most," Dingell said. "Fred really believed that he was an American first, that reaching across the aisle was important, that working together is how we get things done for the American people.

"His retiring is a loss for this country and especially the people of Michigan," she said.

Upton became a top target of former President Donald Trump last year after he and nine other House Republicans voted to impeach Trump following the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

Despite death threats, Upton has stuck by that vote, defending it in the face of primary challenges and censures from county party leaders in his current district in southwest Michigan. 

Trump welcomed Upton's retirement in a Tuesday statement, which noted the fate of the 10 House Republicans who impeached him. "UPTON QUITS!" Trump said. "4 down and 6 to go."

Then the state redistricting commission redid Michigan's political maps after the 2020 Census, and Upton was drawn into the new 4th District with Huizenga, who last month got Trump's "complete and total" endorsement in the primary contest.

The new district runs from southern Ottawa County to northern Berrien County, covering all of Allegan and Van Buren counties, part of Kalamazoo County and Battle Creek, as well as Upton's hometown of St. Joseph.

Upton has been viewed as having a fundraising and geographic advantage in the new district, keeping more of his current territory than Huizenga did after redistricting.

But some analysts had said the pro-Trump Huizenga would have an edge in a head-to-head race, noting the new district covers counties where grassroots supporters of Trump last year censured Upton over his vote for Trump's impeachment.

Upton stood to potentially gain from a third contender in the GOP primary, state Rep. Steve Carra of Three Rivers, because it was thought Carra would split the pro-Trump vote with Huizenga. But Carra dropped out March 15 and endorsed Huizenga after the Trump endorsement.  

Multiple signals had pointed to another campaign for Upton, including recently spending over $200,000 to air TV ads in west Michigan touting his record. 

A spokesman in late February said Upton was still weighing a "tough" decision in the race against a GOP colleague, with some new areas he had not previously represented. But at that time, Upton said he was making preparations in the case he runs, including collecting signatures to get onto the ballot and raising money.

Huizenga, 53, took office in 2011 and is a senior member on the House Committee on Financial Services. He's been aggressively campaigning in the new district. 

Upton, a formidable fundraiser, led the money race last year, with a haul of nearly $726,380 in the fourth quarter and ending the year with $1.46 million cash on hand, compared with Huizenga's nearly $408,600 in receipts and $1.1 million in cash reserves. 

Upton, a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, long campaigned on bipartisan wins in a hyperpartisan Washington, including measures to clean up the Great Lakes and his 21st Century Cures bill to speed medical innovation and treatments that was signed by former President Barack Obama.  

He has noted that the federal government wouldn't have been able to grant emergency use approval to produce the COVID-19 vaccines if he and other lawmakers hadn't gotten their Cures legislation through in 2016.

Jan. 6 wasn't the first time Upton split with Trump. During the former president's four years in office, the lawmaker voted in line with Trump's position only 79% of the time, according to tracking by FiveThirtyEight.

Upton majored in journalism at the University of Michigan and went into politics, working for U.S. Rep. David Stockman of Michigan and then the Reagan administration, where he managed congressional affairs for the White House Office of Budget and Management. 

In his first run for Congress in 1986, he took down three-term incumbent Mark Siljander in the GOP primary, where Upton was outspent 3-to-1, he has said. For years, Upton rose in seniority on Capitol Hill, eventually chairing the Energy and Commerce Committee for six years before handing off the gavel in January 2017 due to party term limits.

mburke@detroitnews.com

Staff Writers Beth LeBlanc, Craig Mauger and Riley Beggin contributed.