GOP reaction grows after Madison Cawthorn’s Zelensky insult

“We were talking about baseball coaching today,” Rep. Roger Williams, a Texas Republican who coaches the GOP baseball team, told CNN. “Now is not the time to throw accusations like that… What I would just say is that I wish he hadn’t said it. That was the general feeling (in training .)”

“Madison Cawthorn said he was here for public relations and not to legislate. I don’t think he’s a serious legislator,” Rice told CNN. “I think he’s more interested in dropping bombs than trying to help the country.”

“I don’t think he has much respect for the Republican conference or anywhere else,” he added. “He lives in a dreamland.”

Cawthorn’s latest comments have put GOP leaders in an awkward position — just as they try to show a unified front against Russia and paint President Joe Biden as weak against Russian President Vladimir Putin. A freshman’s remarks in the ear of former President Donald Trump risk undermining their anti-Russian stance, and critics have seized on Cawthorn’s most recent behavior to accuse the GOP of echoing the Kremlin talking points and to act with sympathy towards Putin.

Now lawmakers across the conference — including members of the Republican leadership — are heaping criticism on Cawthorn and rushing to distance themselves from his remarks.

“Madison is wrong, if there’s a thug in this world, it’s Putin,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said during his weekly press conference on Friday, despite having said he still supported Cawthorn’s bid for re-election. “You just watched Putin lead Russia bomb a maternity ward. We watched yesterday in a theater that is tagged front and back of the air you are hosting children – bombed. It’s atrocious, it’s wrong, he is the aggressor, he is the one who must end this war, he is the one against whom everyone should unite.

Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the head of the House GOP campaign committee, called Cawthorn’s remarks “unfortunate.”

When asked if Cawthorn was a productive member of the conference, Emmer did not answer directly.

“I’m not going to comment on that,” Emmer added. “My focus is on one thing and that is winning back the majority and making sure we stay focused on the issues that matter.”

But Cawthorn hasn’t always been easy for his colleagues to ignore. Since arriving in Congress last year, the 26-year-old has drawn attention to his party for his controversial antics, whether leading the charge to overturn the 2020 election results or more recently to clean his gun during a virtual veterans’ health hearing. During the election campaign, he found himself in hot water for a 2017 Instagram post showing him visiting Adolf Hitler’s vacation home in Germany and describing it as a “to-do list” item. “. And now, a federal appeals court is expected soon to decide whether to reinvigorate a long-running challenge against his congressional candidacy, which revolves around whether the Constitution’s ban on serving as an insurgent should s apply to him.

Cawthorn’s office sought to soften the backlash for his “thug” comments from Zelensky, explaining in a statement that the congressman was simply trying to warn the United States not to get embroiled in another dispute over the US. ‘foreigner.

“The congressman was expressing his displeasure with how foreign leaders, including Zelensky, had recently used false propaganda to induce America to become involved in a conflict overseas,” the spokesperson said. of Cawthorn. “He supports Ukraine and the Ukrainian president’s efforts to defend their country against Russian aggression, but does not want America to be dragged into another conflict through emotional manipulation.”

Cawthorn isn’t the only Republican creating Russia-related headaches for the GOP. Cawthorn was one of 15 Republicans who voted against a bill to ban Russian oil imports last week, while eight Republicans this week opposed legislation to revoke normal trade relations with Russia. and Belarus. Meanwhile, freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who voted against a massive spending bill containing $13.6 billion in Ukraine aid, recently accused the Biden administration of funding the “NATO Nazis”. And last month, Trump described Putin as a “genius” and a “savant” for his invasion of Ukraine.

“I think there are people in the Republican Party who seem to be in love with autocrats like Putin. I think that’s shameful,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming withdrawn with her lecture on her vocal criticism of Trump. “I think when you have people like Madison Cawthorn, Marjorie Taylor Greene, others like the former president, who have complimented Putin, especially right now when you see he’s a war criminal, you see brutality – – there’s no excuse for people to wonder which side we should be on.”

While Cheney often finds himself on a GOP island when it comes to condemning the Trump wing of the party, many other Republicans expressed displeasure with Cawthorn’s “thug” remarks on Friday.

Rep. Steve Womack, a Republican from Arkansas, said that was “not an arguable comment” and did not say whether he considered Cawthorn a productive member of the conference.

Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, rolled his eyes and laughed when asked about Cawthorn’s remarks, before comparing Zelensky to a modern-day Winston Churchill .

And Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, who represents a Biden-won district, said Cawthorn’s views don’t reflect the majority of the GOP conference.

“I disagree,” Bacon said. “Zelensky was a terrific leader. … Ukraine is the victim.”

Across the Capitol, Cawthorn’s home state senator Thom Tillis took a swipe at Cawthorn by pointing out reports that Russian television was broadcasting Cawthorn’s comments on repeat.

“If your comments are replayed again and again by Russian state propaganda organs…” Tillis tweeted from his official account.

North Carolina Republican House candidate Michele Woodhouse, who is running against Cawthorn after supporting him in 2020, told CNN on Friday that residents of the district were “really upset” by Cawthorn’s “deplorable comments.” .

Woodhouse says if Cawthorn wins the primary, he could jeopardize the seat despite the Republican advantage in the district. She noted that Cawthorn’s anti-Ukrainian comments came as the congressman was charged with driving with a revoked license and dealing with other traffic tickets.

“What I hear on the pitch is that they’re just not proud of who’s representing them,” Woodhouse said.

Some Republican members, however, avoided criticizing Cawthorn on Friday.

“You should talk to him about it,” Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, a member of the radical Freedom Caucus, said of his colleague’s remarks. “I’m not aware of everything that every one of my colleagues is saying. But, listen, I just think we should be very clear about the atrocities, what Putin is doing and we should try to help (Ukraine) .”

Freshman Rep. Nancy Mace, a Republican from South Carolina who faces a primary challenge backed by Trump, said when asked about the “thug” remarks: “These are serious times and it calls serious leadership and that’s where I focus.”

And Rep. Brian Mast, a Republican from Florida, said “yes” Cawthorn was a productive member.

“Look, everyone’s allowed their opinion here to believe whatever they want to believe about you or me, or Pelosi or Biden or Trump or whoever, and Zelensky included. Madison is entitled to his opinion “, said Mast.

But Mast added of Zelensky: “I don’t think he was a thug. I think he was a great leader.”

CNN’s Alex Rogers and Morgan Rimmer contributed to this report.


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