“Remember that Zelensky is a thug,” Cawthorn was seen saying. “Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and it is incredibly evil and it has been pushing woke ideologies. It really is the new woke world empire.”
“The actions of Putin and Russia are disgusting,” Cawthorn said on Twitter on March 10, the same day the footage was released. “But leaders, including Zelensky, should NOT push misinformation on America.”
“I am praying for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people,” Cawthorn added. “Pray also we are not drawn into conflict based on foreign leaders pushing misinformation.”
At his weekly press conference, McCarthy was asked for his reaction to the comments.
“Madison is wrong,” McCarthy quickly responded, adding, “If there’s any thug in this world it’s Putin.”
McCarthy said that in recent days, Russian forces have intentionally targeted a maternity ward and a building housing several children.
“This is atrocious. This is wrong,” McCarthy said. “This [Putin] is the aggressor. This is the one that needs to end this war. This is the one everyone should unite against.”
Asked whether he would support Cawthorn’s re-election despite his disagreement with Cawthorn over the issue, McCarthy said “yes.”
Many other prominent Republicans have also denounced Cawthorn’s comments.
“Like 90 percent of the country is with Ukrainians and is opposed to Putin,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who recently came under fire for calling for a Russian “Brutus” to assassinate Putin. “So when you see a member of Congress say things like this, the one thing I want you to know: they’re outliers.”
“To my colleague in the House, I would push back and say it’s not Ukraine that is invading Russia,” responded Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa). “It is Russia invading Ukraine.”
In a statement to a news outlet, a spokesman for Cawthorn explained his position further, making clear that while he supported the Ukrainian people, he did not want the United States to be drawn into the conflict.
Cawthorn “supports Ukraine and the Ukrainian President’s efforts to defend their country against Russian aggression, but does not want America drawn into another conflict through emotional manipulation,” the spokesman said.
Following an address given to the U.S. Congress by Zelensky—during which he asked that the U.S. impose a no-fly zone and increase its military and financial support—Cawthorn warned against giving the emotional speech too much credence in deciding how to respond to the ongoing conflict.
“Emotion should never guide our foreign policy. The United States must be extraordinarily careful to implement logical, rational foreign policy that tactfully strengthens the Ukrainian people while simultaneously putting America first,” Cawthorn told another news outlet after the speech.
Despite a largely negative reaction from other Republicans, a few have defended Cawthorn’s comments.
Joe Kent, a Trump-backed candidate running to replace Rep. Jaime Herrera Butler (R-Wash.), said on Twitter that Cawthorn’s comments “nailed it.”
“Zelenskyy was installed via a U.S. backed color revaluation (sic), his goal is to move his county (sic) west so he virtue signals in woke ideology while using nazi battalions to crush his enemies,” Kent said. “He was also smart enough to cut our elite in on the graft.”
The proper U.S. response to the Russian invasion has divided the old guard of the GOP—including figures like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Graham who have called for heavy U.S. involvement in the conflict—from more populist-leaning newcomers like Cawthorn, Senate candidate J.D. Vance, and conservative commentator Tucker Carlson, who have demanded that the United States stay out of the conflict.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) shares Cawthorn’s sentiments on the conflict and has demanded that the United States remain out of the Eastern European nation.
Greene, like Cawthorn, voted against a $13.6 billion military and financial aid package to Ukraine that was signed by President Joe Biden on Tuesday.