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Outgoing Republican congressman Fred Upton praises the Jan 6. committee

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

After 18 months, more than a thousand interviews, this week, the House January 6 committee is expected to release its final report. It'll take time to read through it all. We do, of course, already know the committee has voted to issue criminal referrals against former President Trump for recommended charges of obstruction or conspiracy or participating in an insurrection.

To discuss the impact on the former president and the GOP more broadly, we called Fred Upton. He's an outgoing Republican congressman from Michigan, one of 10 Republicans in the House who voted to impeach Trump after January 6. And I began by asking him about the damage this report might do to the former president.

FRED UPTON: Well, I think it already has damaged him. Right after January 6 - and, of course, I witnessed it firsthand - in his words, he said he did everything, in quotes here, "totally appropriate." I didn't think that he did. I watched his speech on TV that day as he riled up the crowd. Obviously, I saw them when they came up to Capitol Hill as well. But he didn't do everything totally appropriate. And, you know, particularly now with the evidence that's been submitted in this report that I look forward to reading, yeah, he's been damaged pretty good, but he's not backed off from that.

KELLY: So I hear you saying, Congressman, you feel this has been a valuable exercise, that it has been important - the work of this committee?

UPTON: Yep, it absolutely has been. And without it, much of this never would have been made public. It never would have seen the light of day. So we needed the transparency, particularly knowing that - I'm one that believes that we came within minutes of having a massacre on the House floor. The members that were there that were trapped - if those doors had been breached like they were in the Senate, I think you would have seen some mass casualties that would have occurred, and it would have made a terrible day much, much worse.

KELLY: Of course, yeah. As you know, many in your party do not see things that way. They have downplayed this committee, its investigation, called it a witch hunt and other things. To what extent are your fellow Republican lawmakers open to this report, to its findings?

UPTON: Well, I don't know yet. We haven't had any votes this week yet. I'm sure there'll be some chatter in the next 24 or 48 hours as we try to wrap up this Congress. But, you know, the work is done. The report is out there. We'll all take time over the next week or so, I'm sure, to review it, read the summary. But it's been - you know, the football's been passed along now to the Justice Department, so we don't really have a role yet. Of course, we've got a new Congress. We got 80 new members.

But all along, you know, the footage that they've showed, the witnesses, particularly from the Trump administration - folks that, you know, ultimately came and spoke the truth - I mean, one of the issues that I had dating back to the beginning was, where were these guys when we were having a tough vote on this? I mean, 10 of us on the Republican side walked the plank to say it was wrong; he needs to be impeached. But where were they then? Where were some of these folks then, saying, oh, they were right? I mean, whether it be Cabinet members or senior members of the administration, it was crickets.

KELLY: I mentioned you're retiring after - what? - 35 years in the house?

UPTON: Thirty-six. That's pretty - yep.

KELLY: Thirty-six years in the house.

UPTON: Yep.

KELLY: May I just ask plainly, do you think you would be speaking this candidly if you weren't retiring, if you had another election in your future?

UPTON: Yeah, I would. And, you know, it's - you know, I didn't make the decision not to run until spring. I had already cast my vote for impeachment. I had already cast my vote for the January 6 commission. I was on record as saying that the president's tax records ought to be made public, as he said himself when he was a candidate six years ago. So, you know, I've always been a straight shooter. I learned that from Ronald Reagan, working at the White House, when I first said no to running for Congress. And a couple of months later, folks convinced me to run, and I thought I'd be there only 10 years. And, you know, it's been a wonderful journey. I've been blessed with great staff in a very swing district. But, yeah, I would. I have no regrets - no regrets.

KELLY: So that's an incredible thing after more than three decades in the place. I will note - I saw where you said recently that Congress is more toxic than ever before.

UPTON: Oh, it is. Yep.

KELLY: This place is more toxic than ever before. I saw you received death threats just for voting for the infrastructure bill last year.

UPTON: Yep.

KELLY: How would you describe the atmosphere in Congress compared to when you first arrived back in the '80s? Is it still possible to do what you came to Congress to do?

UPTON: I sure hope so. And the challenges are going to be enormous in this next Congress. You know, we have a divided government - 51-49 in the Senate, just a handful of votes' difference in the House. And we have, as they say in every presidential election, the most important election in our lifetime. It's true. It's coming up in '24. It's going to succeed, you know, '20 and '16. And all these different issues that we have today are so important to deal with - immigration reform. My goodness. I mean, there's - ought to be a sweet spot that we can get things done. And that's where, you know, the Problem Solvers Caucus, a place where I've been a vice chair - bipartisan group of currently 58 members - it'll be a little smaller in the next Congress - can make a difference. But it's more toxic, for sure, than ever before.

KELLY: We've been speaking with Fred Upton, Republican congressman from Michigan for a few days more. Congressman, thank you so much.

UPTON: You bet. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.