Republican Rep.-elect Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina says he “absolutely” regrets posting a tweet mocking liberals just after he was elected last month.
“It was targeted more at this kind of cancel culture and really the extremes on both ends,” he told CNN in an interview before Christmas. Asked if he wishes he could take the remark back, he replied: “Oh, absolutely.”
The 25-year-old conservative Republican will represent North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District. Cawthorn has been a lightning rod for criticism since vaulting into the political spotlight in an upset GOP primary win earlier this year when he defeated the candidate that President Donald Trump and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows had backed for Meadows’ open seat. Cawthorn has faced scrutiny throughout the year including for accusations of sexual misconduct, his post-Election tweet and his Instagram caption about Adolf Hitler’s vacation home.
A political newcomer, Cawthorn already is looking forward to making his mark in Washington, DC, during his first few days in office.
‘My backbone is reinforced with bi-titanium’
The incoming congressman also appears to be unbothered by any potential policy differences he has with other lawmakers. Cawthorn, who was partially paralyzed in a 2014 car accident and uses a wheelchair, cited his recovery from that event as a metaphor for his political resolve.
“I’m glad my backbone is reinforced with bi-titanium, because they’re going to try to bend me and break me a lot,” he said of fellow politicians — including from his own party — trying to influence him one way or another.
Cawthorn is already making plans to speak out. Though he told CNN that Trump’s legal team has not presented any “massive evidence of voter fraud all across the country,” Cawthorn said at a Turning Point USA Student Action Summit two days later that he “will be contesting the election” when Congress certifies the Electoral College votes on January 6, aligning himself with several other Republicans who plan to object to the formal ratification of the November presidential election.
The move won’t change the outcome of the election, but it could further delay the inevitable affirmation of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over Trump.
And while Cawthorn cast doubt on the record number of popular votes Biden received, he told CNN that he looks forward to working with the President-elect, saying he thinks “we can modernize our country together.”
Past controversies loom
But as Cawthorn takes office, several past controversies have resurfaced and loomed over his journey to Capitol Hill.
He came under scrutiny during the summer for photos on his Instagram page that show him in 2017 visiting Adolf Hitler’s vacation house in Germany known as the “Eagle’s Nest.” The post’s caption refers to Hitler as “the führer” and says that a visit to the site — a popular tourist destination documenting the horrors of the Nazi regime — had been on his “bucket list for awhile” and “did not disappoint.” He also referred to Hitler as a “supreme evil” in the Instagram post caption.
His Democratic opponent seized on the post, and Cawthorn later denounced White supremacy as he came under fire for the post. He told CNN he made a mistake by using the the term “the führer.”
“I was unaware that using a certain term describing an evil man — Hitler — was offensive to people in the Jewish community. And if that did offend them, that is something I never meant to do,” he said.
Cawthorn told CNN his posts were mischaracterized and directly denied that he is a White supremacist.
“I want people to know, I’m definitely not a Nazi. I’m not a White supremacist,” he said. He added, “I hate White supremacy, I hate racism.”
At least two women have also alleged that he had forcibly kissed or touched them years ago, claims he has previously denied. He told CNN he regretted actions he took and apologized to anybody he “made feel uncomfortable.”
“Looking back, I wish I could have changed my actions. If I made somebody feel uncomfortable in a situation, that is never my goal,” he told CNN.
“You know, I want to live in a world where if I have a daughter, people are gonna ask permission before they’re gonna try and touch her or trying to kiss her right. But also, I want to live in a world where no, my son, if he tries to kiss a girl, he’s not going to be labeled as some kind of sexual predator.”
The new youngest member of Congress
Cawthorn says he’ll focus on issues affecting young people. Among them are access to broadband, opioid addiction and even the environment, something Republicans have traditionally been reluctant to address.
“I believe that as a Republican you can love God, love guns and hate greenhouse gases,” Cawthorn said.
While from opposite sides of the political spectrum, Cawthorn’s forthcoming superlative as the youngest member of the new Congress inevitably draws comparisons to Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, currently the youngest US representative.
Cawthorn said he disagrees with Ocasio-Cortez’s progressive policies but credited her, saying he was inspired by her to run for Congress.
“She did set an example that you can get involved as a young person in your twenties to make a difference in your country,” he said. “That’s something that is inspiring and should inspire all Americans across the board, regardless of political affiliation.”
He also says he hopes more young Republicans follow him to Congress.
“I do feel immense pressure to represent Gen Z Republicans who are coming,” he said. “I do want reinforcements to come behind me. I don’t care how old you are, but I would love to be surrounded by more young Republicans.”