GOP Rep. Cawthorn calls Zelensky a 'thug,' says Ukraine is pushing 'woke ideologies'

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Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., called Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky a "thug" at a campaign event over the weekend.

"Remember that Zelensky is a thug," Cawthorn said in a video obtained by WRAL. "Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies."

The 26-year-old Cawthorn’s statement is a deviation from mainstream Republican support of Zelensky and the Ukrainian people as they defend themselves against the Russian invasion, but it echoes comments made at the first impeachment trial of then-President Donald Trump.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at a white podium with a blue embossed shield for Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks in Kyiv on March 6. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

“We’re talking Ukraine … one of the three most corrupt countries on the planet,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said at the first hearing. “Corruption is not just prevalent in Ukraine — it’s the system!”

Trump was impeached for attempting to blackmail Zelensky shortly after the Ukrainian president took office, in a call to him in 2019. Democrats argued that Trump had threatened to condition U.S. military aid to Ukraine on a commitment from Zelensky to launch an investigation into Joe Biden, then a top candidate in the Democratic primary race.

An hour after WRAL published the video, Cawthorn tweeted that Putin’s actions were “disgusting” and that he was praying for Ukrainians but that “leaders, including Zelensky, should NOT push misinformation on America.”

A spokesperson for Cawthorn did not immediately reply to Yahoo News’ request for comment.

The comments from the freshman congressman were first noted by the Republican strategist Karl Rove in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Wednesday. In a piece describing Republican support for Ukraine, despite Trump’s praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Rove cited Cawthorn's comments, as well as those made by Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance, as exceptions.

Rep. Madison Cawthorn seated in his wheelchair amid empty seats in the House Chamber.
Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., arrives for the State of the Union address at the House of Representatives on March 1. (Saul Loeb/Pool via Reuters)

Cawthorn has raised controversy on many occasions since taking office last year, after comments he made about Adolf Hitler and the Black Lives Matter movement. He has also compared the issue of COVID-19 vaccine passports to Nazi policies, misleadingly implied that he was accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy, and launched a website accusing a journalist of leaving a job at Boston University “to work for non-white males, like [Democratic New Jersey Sen.] Cory Booker, who aims to ruin white males running for office.”

Additionally, a number of women who attended college with Cawthorn have accused him of sexual misconduct, charges he denies.

He also spoke at the Jan. 6, 2021, rally that preceded the violence at the U.S. Capitol and subsequently voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. He recently made headlines for driving with a revoked license, his third reported traffic violation in the last six months.

Cawthorn won the 11th District in the western portion of North Carolina with 55 percent of the vote in 2020. After initially saying he would run for reelection in a newly drawn 13th District, he reversed course and said he would remain in the 11th.

Rep. Madison Cawthorn at the microphone in his wheelchair on a podium with a backdrop of flags.
On Jan. 6, 2021, newly elected Rep. Madison Cawthorn addresses supporters of then-President Donald Trump near the White House. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Some North Carolinians sued to keep Cawthorn off the ballot due to his role on Jan. 6, citing a Reconstruction-era law that bans those who have engaged in insurrection, but a judge blocked the effort last week.

A number of North Carolina Republicans, including several of Cawthorn’s GOP primary opponents, quickly condemned his remarks on Ukraine. And on Wednesday, GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy appeared to distance himself from Trump, who praised Putin as “savvy” in the lead-up to the invasion.

"I do not think anything savvy or genius about Putin. I think Putin is evil. I think he’s a dictator. I think he’s murdering people right now,” McCarthy said.

When asked if he agreed that there was no room in the Republican Party for Putin apologists, a statement made by former Vice President Mike Pence, McCarthy answered in the affirmative.

“Yeah,” McCarthy told reporters.


What happened this week in Ukraine? Check out this explainer from Yahoo Immersive to find out.

Where are Russian forces attacking Ukraine? Check out this explainer from Yahoo Immersive to find out.