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Clarence Fanto | The Bottom Line: A shocker (not) — lawmakers targeted by extremists

LENOX — How is this possible in America?

The $1 trillion infrastructure bill passed by Congress — to be spread over the next 10 years, not spent all at once — was fashioned by a team of 10 Democrats and Republicans working together on Capitol Hill.

When the Senate passed it last August, 19 Republicans joined all 50 Democrats and independents to vote in favor, with 30 Republicans opposed.

Mitch McConnell, the GOP minority leader who typically tries to block every Biden administration proposal, the same tactics he used during the Obama presidency, voted in favor.

“I was proud to support today’s historic bipartisan infrastructure deal and prove that both sides of the political aisle can still come together around common-sense solutions,” McConnell enthused.

When the House finally approved the bill last week to upgrade the nation’s roads, bridges, tunnels, ports, power grids and broadband networks — and to boost U.S. Forest Service funding to fight wildfires — 13 Republicans joined all but six Democrats to muscle it through, 228-206.

So far, so good. But, here comes the shocker.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, has been targeted by extremists who have threatened to kill him for the unpardonable crime of supporting a bipartisan deal that most normal Americans favor.

As heard on CNN from a South Carolina caller to Upton’s office, this great American bellowed: “You’re a f---- — piece of s- — traitor. I hope you die.”

There were more calls, thanks to a House colleague who tweeted the names and office phone numbers of the 13 Republicans who voted for the infrastructure bill. In a Detroit News interview, Upton identified Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, as the culprit.

Greene had warned that any Republicans supporting the bill, which she described as “Joe Biden’s Communist takeover of America,” would be “a traitor to our party, a traitor to their voters and a traitor to our donors.”

Other Republicans who voted for the infrastructure package also were targeted. Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger was advised to slit his wrists and “rot in hell.” Another fine American urged Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon to trip and fall down a staircase. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis of New York also was branded as a “traitor.”

McConnell once again defended the bill as “a godsend, good for the country, I’m glad it passed.” The Kentucky Republican’s rare display of bipartisan goodwill undoubtedly was fueled by funding to restore the key bridge over the Ohio River connecting northern Kentucky with Cincinnati. It’s part of more than $10 billion headed to McConnell’s home state.

The Republican leader will skip Monday’s White House ceremony where Biden will sign the legislation, saying he has other things to do. He had been upbraided by ex-President Donald Trump’s statement questioning why “Old Crow Mitch McConnell voted for a terrible Democrat Socialist Infrastructure Plan and induced others to do likewise.”

Upton, who has represented his southwestern Michigan district since 1987, described the threatening calls as a sign of a “polarized, toxic environment” that’s “worse than I’ve ever seen before.” He told CNN that the uptick in threats “truly is frightening.”

“We’ve seen civility really downslide here,” he said. “I’m concerned about my staff. They’re taking these calls. There are threats to them.”

“Our country can’t afford this partisan dysfunction any longer,” Upton declared, noting that his office had received more than 1,000 phone threats. “This madness has to stop.”

The vicious onslaught can be blamed, at least in part, on Trump, who regularly threatens and insults Republicans failing to toe his line.

Aided by the megaphone of right-wing news outlets, he encourages his base to make sure its Capitol Hill representatives echo Trump’s opposition, branding what many of us consider bipartisan efforts to improve Americans’ quality of life as traitorous, socialist and worthy of the most foul, noxious threats.

All this bodes ill for the fate of Biden’s separate $1.85 trillion (over 10 years) social safety net, climate and tax plan. House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., warned that Biden “should have focused just on infrastructure. But what they want to do is restructure and transform America.”

The nation does need restructuring and transformation, but in the current environment, further efforts toward a kinder, gentler, more equitable republic are skating on the thinnest of ice.

As Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, lamented about the 13 Republican House members who voted for the infrastructure package: “To have those people attacked for doing the right thing for the United States of America and everybody’s constituents?”

He didn’t finish the thoughtful rhetorical question. But, Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who represents downstate New York’s Hudson Valley, did.

“It’s a sad statement of how the other party has lost its way,” Maloney said. “If you want our country to fail so you can say things are bad and win power for yourself, you act like the House Republicans are.”

Information from the Washington Post, The New York Times and the Associated Press was included in this commentary. Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.

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