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McCarthy says Madison Cawthorn is "wrong" about Zelenskyy

Inside Madison Cawthorn's rise through the GOP
Representative Madison Cawthorn seen as rising star of far right, despite past allegations of misconduct 07:59

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn, of North Carolina, was "wrong" to call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a "thug" — but says he will still be supporting Cawthorn's reelection bid.

The North Carolina Republican has come under fire in recent days, after reports — and then a video — emerged in which he told supporters in Asheville, North Carolina, "Zelenskyy is a thug," and "Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt, and it is incredibly evil, and it has been pushing woke ideologies."

His view in the minority — the Ukrainian president is widely admired around the world and in Congress as an inspiring leader who has united his people and much of the international community against a withering and unprovoked assault by Russia. When Zelenskyy addressed Congress earlier this week, he received a standing ovation from lawmakers of both parties.

Cawthorn's comments are reportedly being played repeatedly on Russian state TV, according to NBC News reporter Raf Sanchez.   

Asked about Cawthorn's comments Friday, McCarthy responded, "Madison is wrong. If there's any thug in this world, it's Putin."

But the GOP leader, asked by a reporter whether he would support Cawthorn's House reelection bid, replied "yes."

Cawthorn's comments, which came to light as Congress has moved swiftly to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, are the latest example of McCarthy's struggle to manage a fractious conference. Last month, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona appeared before the America First Political Action Conference, which is organized by white nationalist Nick Fuentes. Greene has also faced condemnation for several comments comparing COVID-19 mandates to the Holocaust. 

McCarthy often handles these issues with private conversations with his members. The only lawmaker who has faced lingering consequences is Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, who was removed from her leadership position in the House Republican conference after repeatedly criticizing former President Trump for his role in the January 6 riot. 

McCarthy has also endorsed Wyoming trial attorney Harriet Hageman, who is challenging Cheney in her primary election.

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