scorecardRepublican senators say Madison Cawthorn is an outlier after he called Zelenskyy a 'thug' and the Ukrainian government 'incredibly evil'
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Republican senators say Madison Cawthorn is an outlier after he called Zelenskyy a 'thug' and the Ukrainian government 'incredibly evil'

Bryan Metzger   

Republican senators say Madison Cawthorn is an outlier after he called Zelenskyy a 'thug' and the Ukrainian government 'incredibly evil'
PoliticsPolitics3 min read
Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.    J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photos
  • Cawthorn called Zelenskyy a "thug" and said the Ukrainian government is "incredibly evil" and "corrupt."
  • Asked about it by Insider, Republicans rejected Cawthorn's characterization of Ukraine.

Republican senators on Thursday rejected Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina's characterization of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a "thug" who's presiding over an "incredibly evil" and "incredibly corrupt" government.

"Remember that Zelenskyy is a thug," said the 26-year-old congressman at a town hall on Saturday. "Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and it is incredibly evil and it has been pushing woke ideologies."

Asked by Insider at a Senate press conference about Cawthorn's remarks, Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa rejected his characterization of Ukraine.

"You know, if we think that any country is free of corruption than we are kidding ourselves, but let me tell you what, the Ukrainians want to be free. They have been fighting for this for the past 30 years," she said. "To just hand them over to an actual murderous thug named Vladimir Putin is the wrong thing to do."

She then addressed Cawthorn's comments directly.

"To my colleague in the House, I would push back," she said. "It's not Ukraine that is invading Russia. It is Russia invading Ukraine."

Cawthorn's comments are significant, given his emergence as a prominent far-right Republican voice in Congress who's also proven to be a prolific fundraiser. It also mirrors rhetoric from influential Republicans such as Tucker Carlson, who deemed Ukraine a "dictatorship" ahead of the Russian invasion of the country.

But Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi rejected the idea that his party's base isn't behind elected Republicans, who have been relatively united in calling for strong action against Russia and spent the majority of Thursday's press conference criticizing President Joe Biden's administration for rejecting Poland's offer to supply Ukraine with Russian-made MiG-29 fighter jets.

"The Republican base is with us on this," Wicker said, prompting Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to inerject and say "100 percent." Wicker added that "the vast majority of Democrats are with us on this."

Graham, who recently introduced a resolution to support Ukraine's war crimes claim against Russia in the International Criminal Court, said Cawthorn didn't represent most Republicans.

"I think the average Republican and Democrat in this country would give high marks to Zelenskyy," said Graham. "Do a poll! I've seen these polls. What [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has done, is done something we can't do among ourselves; like 90% of the country is with Ukrainians and is opposed to Putin."

Recent polling by the Economist and YouGov has found that 44% of Americans view Zelenskyy favorably, while 16% expressed an unfavorable view. 40% had no opinion.

"So when you see a member of Congress say things like this, the one thing I want you to know, they are outliers in the largest sense possible on our side," Graham added. "And there are some on the left that are outliers."

The House of Representatives passed a bill late on Wednesday night that would codify a ban on Russian oil imports to the United States and levy further sanctions against Russia. Fifteen House Republicans, mostly on the right flank of the caucus, voted against the bill. Two Democrats, including Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Cori Bush of Missouri, also voted against it.

"Let's end with this thought: that America believes that Zelenskyy and the Ukrainians are the good guys, and Putin's the bad guys. And we'd like to be helping the good guys more," said Graham, concluding the press conference.

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