The top Republican in the U.S. House blasted U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-11th District, in public comments after the freshman western N.C. congressman received a private tongue lashing from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise.
Cawthorn angered House Republicans when he claimed he had been invited by fellow lawmakers to drug-fueled sex parties where use of cocaine was common. Cawthorn made the claims in a recorded video interview.
“I’m very disappointed. I told him he’s lost my trust,” McCarthy said after the meeting, according to CNN’s Melanie Zanona. “He’s lost my trust. He’s going to have to earn it back.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis endorsed a top GOP challenger to Cawthorn, state Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson.
“It comes down to focus on the district, producing results for the district, and in my opinion, Mr. Cawthorn hasn’t demonstrated much in the way of results over the last 18 months,” Tillis told CNN, describing why he is backing Edwards in his primary against Cawthorn.
The two most powerful Republicans in the state legislature — Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland — are headlining a fundraiser for Edwards this week, according to the Edwards campaign.
Cawthorn has been stepping into new controversies almost daily.
Carolina Journal recently reported that Cawthorn was taking fire for his lackluster attendance record in the U.S. House, as well as his comments on Russia and his recent arrests for speeding and driving without a license.
The Asheville Citizen-Times reported this week that Cawthorn angered western N.C. citizens by calling an effort to join Hendersonville and Brevard by a pedestrian pathway “communist.”
“There’s a lot of different things that can happen,” McCarthy told reporters after his meeting with Cawthorn.”I just told him he’s lost my trust, he’s gonna have to earn it back, and I laid out everything I find is unbecoming. And, you can’t just say ‘You can’t do this again.’ I mean, he’s got a lot of members very upset.”
According to McCarthy, Cawthorn admitted his claims were “exaggerated.”
McCarthy told news outlets he may take further action to condemn Cawthorn over his “unacceptable” remarks, which set off a firestorm within the House Republican Caucus. The actions could include Cawthorn being stripped of his committee assignments.
“In the interview, he claims he watched people do cocaine. Then when he comes in, he tells me, he says he thinks he saw maybe a staffer in a parking garage from 100 yards away,” McCarthy said.
Previously, Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pennsylvania, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, of which Cawthorn is a member, said he plans to speak to Cawthorn about his behavior. Perry said Cawthorn should identify the individuals he alleges engaged in immoral and illegal behavior.
McCarthy also cited Cawthorn’s calling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “thug” as problematic. Additionally, McCarthy called it unacceptable for a member of Congress to be caught driving without a license after failing to show up to court.
“It is just frustrating. There is no evidence behind his statements,” McCarthy said.
Rep. Steve Womack, R-Arkansas, suggested he hopes N.C. voters fix the problems Cawthorn is causing the GOP in Washington or more will have to be done.
“Frankly, if western North Carolina is not going to fix the problem, then leadership will have to.”
Retiring Sen. Richard Burr — the senior GOP senator from North Carolina — told CNN he won’t be getting involved in Cawthorn’s primary, but added: “On any given day, he’s an embarrassment.”
And Rep. Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota told CNN that instead of an angel and devil on Cawthorn’s shoulder, “in Madison’s case it’s Lloyd Christmas on one shoulder and Harry Dunne on the other shoulder” — a reference to the main characters in the movie “Dumb and Dumber.”