Since Madison Cawthorn took office two months ago, vowing to represent everyone in his Western North Carolina district, not just those who voted for him, nearly all of his votes in Congress on substantial issues have been against proposals supported by Democrats, an analysis of his record by Asheville Watchdog found.
Records show that Rep. Cawthorn has not introduced any original legislation so far in the 117th Congress. He has, however, co-sponsored 52 bills and resolutions as of Thursday, nearly all in support of causes that are popular with what he calls his “patriot” base.
One of the bills Cawthorn co-sponsored, H.R. 450, would prohibit the use of federal funds “to propose, establish, implement, or enforce any requirement that an individual wear a mask or other face covering, or be vaccinated, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
He is also one of a handful of co-sponsors for H.R. 993, introduced by Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, which would establish a “national gun sanctuary” and prohibit the use of federal funds to enact or enforce any gun control laws, even background checks. Cawthorn also signed on to a proposed bill to preempt most state and local laws related to the carrying of concealed handguns.
Meanwhile, the Hendersonville Republican has also made good on an advisory he sent to fellow Republicans shortly after assuming office that he would put “comms,” meaning publicity, ahead of legislation as the principal goal of his term of office.
The telegenic congressman is a prolific poster on social media. He often posts photos and videos of himself, sometimes in tandem with far-right allies including Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert. He appears regularly for interviews with Fox News, Newsmax, and other right-wing media, and seeks high-profile speaking opportunities, where he presents himself as an uncompromising defender of “real Americans” and a defender of “Western North Carolina mountain values.”
As his national profile has grown, so too has negative news coverage of him. In the past two weeks the congressman has been blistered by a flurry of unflattering articles in major news outlets including The Washington Post, People, CNN, Newsweek, USA Today, BuzzFeed, and others.
And as negative coverage increases, Cawthorn’s attacks on Democrats have increased in volume and intensity. Many of Cawthorn’s social media posts seem designed to exploit cultural divisions and resentments.
Cry More Lib
Cawthorn has also lived up to his election-night Twitter taunt “Cry more lib,” to the delight of his many supporters and to the horror of almost all of his opponents, including a majority of voters in the liberal oasis of Asheville, the largest city in his otherwise Republican district.
Other bills Cawthorn has put his name on would:
- Restrict abortion, and require women having an abortion to arrange in advance for burial or cremation of fetal remains,
- Weaken labor unions,
- Permit federal funding for home schooling and private schools,
- Restrict immigration, and require visa holders from China to attest that they are not paid by the Chinese Communist Party,
- Deny COVID-19 vaccines to prisoners held at the Guantánamo naval base in Cuba,
- Prevent local governments from passing laws restricting fracking and oil pipelines,
- Bar transgender students from participating in school sports,
- Oppose environmental protection efforts,
- Prevent the U.S. from rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and the World Health Organization,
- Remove the ability of social media platforms to block users who post racist, violent or dangerous comments.
A major achievement in Cawthorn’s first two months was his appointment to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and many of the bills and resolutions he supports are to honor and support military veterans, and Capitol police killed or injured in the Jan. 6 attempted coup d’état.
Hours before the riot, newly sworn Congressman Cawthorn gave a speech encouraging the crowd to believe that it was possible to stop the certification of electoral college votes for Joe Biden. During the violence, he called a right-wing radio show to falsely claim that the rioters were paid by Democrats. Hours after the riot, he cast votes to reject the votes of Arizona and Pennsylvania, which had gone for Biden and Kamala Harris.
Voting by Proxy
His most recent major votes this week were against the “For the People” bill to expand voter registration, early voting, and mail-in voting, and against President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan pandemic relief bill, legislation that polling indicates is supported by an overwhelming majority of American voters, Republicans and Democrats alike.
The relief bill he voted against includes significant funding to expand internet broadband to rural areas, which Cawthorn said during the campaign was a top priority for Western North Carolina. “He offered an amendment in committee that would have dramatically increased access to rural broadband in NC-11. Democrats struck it down,” his communications director, Micah Bock, told The Watchdog.
His vote against the American Rescue Plan was actually cast by Rep. Patrick McHenry, his fellow North Carolina Republican. Cawthorn had traveled to Florida to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), and requested to vote by proxy, saying he was unable to appear in person in Congress “due to the ongoing public health emergency.”
Cawthorn, a vocal critic of absentee voting in the November election, later blamed his proxy vote on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, for scheduling votes while he and other Republicans were in Florida.
While Cawthorn’s two months in office have been light on original legislative accomplishments, they have been busy on the comms front.
Calling Democrats “brutal and vicious,” Cawthorn spoke from a stage at CPAC that many observers noted was shaped like an insignia used by SS troops in Hitler’s Third Reich.
Cawthorn has adamantly denied any sympathy to Nazi or white supremacist ideology, following criticism during his election campaign for referring to Hitler by the honorific “the Führer,” referring to the millions of Jews and others murdered in the Holocaust as having been “exterminated,” and posing for pictures at Hitler’s vacation retreat.
At the CPAC speech, Cawthorn railed against “globalists,” against Democratic proposals to offer healthcare for all, and against forgiveness of student debt. He said a “culture of government handouts” is destroying the fundamental value of personal responsibility.
“Our number one guiding principle is personal responsibility,” Cawthorn said. Democrats, he said, “do not want us to be responsible.”
Cawthorn, now a multimillionaire after receiving insurance settlements arising from a car accident in 2014, testified in a deposition that at one point his principal source of income was $700 a month in Social Security disability payments.
Before the accident, he worked for minimum wage at a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Hendersonville. As a congressman he is paid $174,000 a year, and receives subsidized gold-level health insurance under Obamacare, which covers his pre-existing conditions. Since taking office he has also railed against expanding Medicare and Medicaid, and against raising the minimum wage.
His comments condemning Democratic proposals for free college tuition and forgiveness of student debt have taken on added significance since Cawthorn was named to the House Committee on Education and Labor. Cawthorn was home-schooled and dropped out of college after one semester of what he said were near-failing grades.
Flurry of Unflattering Coverage
Many of the recent negative stories about Cawthorn cite the original reporting by Asheville Watchdog that uncovered falsehoods he told relating to the 2014 car accident that left him partially paralyzed and reliant on a wheelchair. Cawthorn claimed that his plans to attend the U.S. Naval Academy were “derailed” by the accident; he was rejected before the accident. But apparently he still promotes the story, as recently as last week.
Most of the articles focus on Cawthorn’s alleged “sexually predatory behavior” and misogyny during his brief time at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia, during the 2016-2017 school year.
PHC is closely affiliated with the Home School Legal Defense Association, a Christian home-schooling advocacy association that emphasizes a literal interpretation of the Bible, including biblically traditional roles for men and women. Most of PHC’s students were home-schooled.
“Patrick Henry is a tiny school with an outsized influence as a training ground for the religious right and a pipeline to conservative jobs in Washington,” The New Republic wrote in 2014. Blake Meadows, the son of Mark Meadows, is an alumnus of PHC. Mark Meadows represented Western North Carolina in the House seat now held by Cawthorn before resigning to become Donald Trump’s final chief of staff.
Two of the bills Cawthorn co-sponsored in his first two months would permit federal funds to be sent to parents who home-school their children.
More than 150 students who knew Cawthorn at Patrick Henry College signed a public letter saying “Cawthorn’s time at PHC was marked by gross misconduct toward our female peers, public misrepresentation of his past, disorderly conduct that was against the school’s honor code, and self-admitted academic failings.”
“Potentially Fabricated Allegations”
Other than the academic failings, Cawthorn denies the accusations. Micah Bock, Cawthorn’s communications director and PHC classmate, called the recent negative news stories “a mix of half-truths, untruths and potentially fabricated allegations.”
And besides, Bock noted, many of the issues were already raised during the campaign.
“The voters of Western North Carolina responded to these allegations by giving Madison Cawthorn a 12-point victory over his opponent,” Bock said in a statement this week to Fox News.
On Wednesday, Bock told New York City television station Spectrum News 1 that Cawthorn would consent to an interview only if he was not asked about the various allegations, the station reported. On Fox News, the allegations did not come up. Instead, Cawthorn was asked to comment about liberals “cancelling” Dr. Seuss books.
“Communist Ash Heap”
Cawthorn keeps his social media followers riled up; of more than 175 messages he or his staff have posted since he took office, all but a few make Democrats the villains of everything that he sees as wrong with America.
“Democrats will weaponize any crisis for partisan gain,” he wrote recently. In another post last week he wrote, “Blue-collar workers are realizing that the Democrats don’t care about them. Democrats only care about pleasing the rich elites who fund them.”
“Democrats,” he told the audience at CPAC, “are trying to turn this country into a Communist ash heap.”
He blames Democrats for partisan divisions in the country. “Why do Democrats hate bipartisanship?” he wrote Wednesday on Twitter.
Forum for “True Patriots!”
In January, after thousands of his followers were blocked by Twitter in a purge of Russian bots and QAnon conspiracy promoters, Cawthorn urged his followers to switch to an alternative social media service, Parler. But soon after, Parler was shut down by its web hosting provider for failing to stop violent and racist content. Now Cawthorn encourages his followers to use Telegram, a social media site based in Dubai.
“Social media outlets are banning & censoring true Patriots!” Cawthorn wrote in a message to followers. “I am calling for First Amendment protections to be applied to this New Town Square.”
There is no indication that Cawthorn makes any effort to block or discourage his Telegram followers from posting a steady stream of neo-Nazi, racist, white supremacist, antisemitic, misogynist, anti-vaccination, conspiratorial and blatantly false misinformation.
Two common themes on Madison Cawthorn Chat on Telegram are loathing of Democrats and a belief that Democrats “stole” the November 2020 election from Donald Trump, who, they claim without evidence, was cheated by a vast conspiracy of fraud that included state and national election officials, dozens of courts including the Supreme Court, and the liberal news media.
Bipartisan election officials confirm that Biden and Kamala Harris won the election by 7 million votes.
On Jan. 23, Cawthorn acknowledged to CNN that “Joseph R. Biden is our president” and that “the election was not fraudulent.” He also told Smoky Mountain News, when asked if then-President Trump’s comments leading up to Jan. 6 played a role in the violence that took place, “I think you’d have to be pretty ignorant to say that they didn’t play a role in it.”
Blowback on the Madison Cawthorn Chat group on Telegram was swift and intense, with some followers calling him a “traitor.”
In recent weeks, Cawthorn has returned to accusations of voter fraud by Democrats.
“Rep. Cawthorn believes that illegal ballots were cast, in violation of state law and the U.S. Constitution,” Bock told The Watchdog on Friday.
He has also re-emphasized his support for Trump, whom he calls President Trump. President Biden is simply “Biden” or “Joe” in all but one post by Cawthorn on his Twitter feed.
“Rep. Cawthorn respects the office of the presidency, and has signed a letter pledging to work with Biden on bipartisan issues that benefit NC-11,” Bock told The Watchdog.
This week, as he starts his third month in office, Cawthorn filed papers with the Federal Election Commission, a first step in running for re-election.
Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Peter H. Lewis is a former senior writer and editor at The New York Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org