Top US House Republican Slams Party Hardliner Over Zelensky ‘Thug’ Comment
The top Republican in the US House of Representatives said on Friday that Republican Representative Madison Cawthorn was wrong to call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a “thug” during a meeting with his North Carolina constituents.
But Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who hopes to become House speaker next year if Republicans retake the majority, said he was still backing Cawthorn in the Nov. 8 midterm election.
Cawthorn, a 26-year-old hard-line conservative and staunch ally of former President Donald Trump, is one of several Republicans who have come under fire since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for comments seen as supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin or attacking Ukraine.
“Madison is wrong. If there’s any thug in this world, it’s Putin,” McCarthy said at a Friday news conference, adding that he had spoken to Cawthorn.
“This is the aggressor,” McCarthy said of Putin. “This is the one that needs to end this war. This is the one that everybody should unite against.”
Asked if he still supported Cawthorn’s reelection, McCarthy replied: “Yes.”
Cawthorn, who did not respond to a request for comment, is only the latest hard-line House conservative to cause McCarthy headaches. Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar participated in a white nationalist conference last month where participants applauded Russia and chanted Putin’s name.
On Wednesday, Zelensky became the first wartime leader to deliver a virtual address to Congress, in a presentation that resonated strongly with US lawmakers.
In a video clip aired by WRAL-TV in Raleigh the week before Zelensky’s address, Cawthron described the Ukrainian leader and his country in these terms: “Remember that Zelensky is a thug. Remember the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”
Senator Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, lashed out at Cawthorn after US media reported that the clip had been played repeatedly by Russian state television.