Rep. Madison Cawthorn calls Zelensky a “thug” and says the Ukrainian government is “incredibly evil”.
Cawthorn, 26, is in his first term in the House of Representatives and has been a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump, who recently praised Russian President Vladimir Putin’s handling of the invasion as “brilliant” and “savvy.”
Rove said Cawthorn made the remarks Saturday at an Asheville, NC city hall. He said Cawthorn and a handful of other Republican candidates calling “Mr. Reflecting Trump’s isolationism and Kremlin apologetics are out of sync with GOP voters.”
In a statement, Cawthorn spokesman Luke Ball said the lawmaker was referring to pro-Ukrainian misinformation.
“The congressman expressed displeasure at how foreign leaders, including Zelensky, have recently used false propaganda to lure America into engaging in an overseas conflict,” Ball said. “He supports the efforts of Ukraine and the… President of Ukraine to defend their country against Russian aggression, but does not want emotional manipulation to drag America into another conflict.”
He also pointed this out a twitter thread Thursday afternoon on which Cawthorn shared a link to a blog detailing some pro-Ukrainian misinformation circulating online.
“The actions of Putin and Russia are disgusting. But leaders, including Zelensky, should NOT spread misinformation about America,” Cawthorn said in a tweet. “I pray for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. Pray also that we will not be dragged into conflicts based on foreign leaders spreading misinformation.”
Late Thursday afternoon, Cawthorn sent a tweet from his campaign report, which seems to blame President Biden for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
“It shouldn’t shock anyone that Putin wasn’t afraid of Sleepy Joe,” he said.
Democrats were quick to pick up on Cawthorn’s comments at City Hall, with the Democratic National Committee noting that “the overwhelming majority of the party sided with Trump when he attempted to withhold military aid from Ukraine.”
“It is only natural that a Republican Party led by Donald Trump, who regularly lauds Vladimir Putin as ‘genius’ and ‘clever’ when he wages unprovoked and unjustified war against the Ukrainian people, evolves towards the attacking the democratically elected President of Ukraine who has shown true heroism in the face of Russian aggression,” DNC spokesman Ammar Moussa said in a statement.
The Democratic Party’s campaign committee also got involved. “The Putin Republican is showing his true, disgusting face. Another day, another anti-democracy tirade from the House GOP,” the campaign arm of House Democrats said in a tweet.
Some Senate Republicans also criticized Cawthorn during a Thursday news briefing, with Sen. Lindsey Graham (RS.C.) calling him an outlier “on our side in the greatest possible sense.” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) called Putin “a really murderous thug” and reminded Cawthorn that it was Russia that invaded Ukraine, not the other way around.
Cawthorn was also one of 15 House Republicans who voted this week against a ban on oil imports from Russia.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll last month found that a large and bipartisan majority of Americans support economic sanctions against Russia over its military invasion of Ukraine. Members of both parties are also relatively unanimous in their negative views of Russia. More than three-quarters of Democrats and Republicans view Russia negatively, including 47 percent of Democrats and 40 percent of Republicans who view Russia as an “enemy,” the poll found.
Zelenskyy in particular has received global praise for his resilience, determination and fight for Ukraine’s sovereignty against invading Russian forces. He received a standing ovation from Britain’s Parliament on Tuesday when he addressed them virtually, and praise from US lawmakers who called him a hero.
Speakers for Republican leaders in the House of Representatives — House Minority Chairman Kevin McCarthy (California), House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.) and Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (NY) — did not immediately respond to requests for comment to Cawthorn’s statements.
However, McCarthy and Stefanik have been vocal in their support for Ukraine in recent days.
McCarthy said Wednesday he didn’t think there was “anything smart or brilliant about Putin,” and declined to echo Trump’s praise of the Russian leader. McCarthy also said he agreed with a statement made by former Vice President Mike Pence last week that there was no place in the Republican Party for “defenders of Putin.”
“Your courage, your sacrifice and your resistance to a cowardly, bloodthirsty authoritarian dictator are a ray of hope for freedom and democracy around the world,” Stefanik told Ukrainians in the video.
She also noted that as a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee in 2018, she led a bipartisan group of members of Congress to Ukraine, where she “saw firsthand the importance of the security partnership between our two countries to counter Russian aggression and the fight against Vladimir.” Putin’s disinformation and defense of democracy and freedom.”
“Never stop fighting for a sovereign, self-governing and free Ukraine,” said Stefanik.
Scalise has recently been criticized for attempting to reframe Trump-Zelenskyi’s relationship, particularly the phone call between the two that led to the former president’s first impeachment.
On Tuesday, Scalise was asked if he had any fresh thoughts on Trump’s decision to withhold foreign aid from Ukraine, hoping it would spur Zelensky to investigate Biden and his family. Scalise then said Zelensky called Trump “to thank him for the leadership he has provided.”
“In fact, when Zelenskyy was elected, he said he modeled his campaign on President Trump’s — and he ended up getting the bailout he asked for,” Scalise said.
Zelenskyi didn’t call Trump to thank him for his leadership — it was Trump who called Zelenskyi to congratulate him on the election victory. Scalise also ignored the part of the call in which Trump linked aid to Ukraine with efforts to influence Biden’s 2020 campaign.
Donna Cassata and Scott Clement contributed to this report.