The young Congress member has come under fire for allegedly misleading voters about his past. He has also been accused of predatory behavior by multiple women.
Among the freshman class of the 117th Congress is Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, who, at 25 years old, is the youngest current member of Congress. He was elected to the House of Representatives in the first year he was eligible, with no previous political experience.
Cawthorn, a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, has already ruffled some feathers among his colleagues in the House by speaking at the “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6 and seemingly giving credence to the lie that the 2020 election was fraudulently won by President Joe Biden. Attendees of that rally were among the crowd who attacked the United States Capitol.
The young Congress member has also come under fire for allegedly misleading voters about his past. Cawthorn, who is paralyzed from the waist down and uses a wheelchair, has been accused of lying about being accepted into the Naval Academy prior to the accident that left him paralyzed. He has also been accused of predatory behavior by multiple women.
Cawthorn has denied these accusations, but his critics say he cannot be trusted and should resign from office. Here is what is known about Representative Cawthorn.
Madison Cawthorn’s background
David Madison Cawthorn was born in Asheville, North Carolina on August 1, 1995 to Roger and Priscilla Cawthorn. His father has been a financial adviser for over two decades, while Cawthorn’s mother is a homemaker. Cawthorn attended a Christian collective of home-schoolers through high school.
As a teenager, Cawthorn was involved with a local church and was interested in current events and politics. According to Cawthorn, six generations of his family have served in the US Marines, going back to the Civil War. He says he always intended to serve as well.
In 2013, then-Representative Mark Meadows (who would later become Trump’s chief of staff) nominated Cawthorn to the Naval Academy. A person who graduates from the Naval Academy commits to serve in the military for five years. However, in 2014, Cawthorn was in a serious car accident on the way back from a spring break trip and was paralyzed.
Following the accident, Cawthorn worked as a staff member in the district office of Meadows from January 2015 to August 2016. That August, he began studying political science at Patrick Henry College, a private Christian college in Virginia. However, his grades were poor and he dropped out after only one semester.
Cawthorn claims his injury hampered his academic pursuits, as did heartbreak from a relationship that ended when his fiancée left him for a classmate.
According to his website, he is the chief executive officer of a real estate investment company and a motivational speaker.
In June 2020, Cawthorn surprised the Republican establishment when he easily defeated Lynda Bennett, a real estate agent who had been backed by both Trump and Meadows. In November, Cawthorn won the general election with 54.5% of the vote, taking the seat that had previously been occupied by Meadows.
Madison Cawthorn’s political positions
Cawthorn describes himself as a “constitutional conservative” who is “committed to defending the values of faith, family and the freedom that have made America great.” When he first appeared on the political scene, he quickly aligned himself with Trump, even calling his primary opponent, Bennett, a “Never Trumper” in a campaign ad, despite her support from the president.
Cawthorn currently serves on the House Education and Labor Committee and the House Veterans Affairs Committee. He has sponsored two bills so far, one to make daylight saving time permanent and another for a payroll tax cut for companies to provide COVID-19 safety training for employees.
Like the rest of his Republican colleagues in the House, Cawthorn voted against the US$1.9 trillion COVID relief package. Cawthorn was also among the group of Republicans who voted to reject the election results on January 6, though he has since admitted to CNN that “the election was not fraudulent.”
Cawthorn’s rejection from the Naval Academy
Though he has only briefly been in the national spotlight, Cawthorn’s political career has already been marred by multiple controversies, most of them revolving around alleged falsehoods.
Cawthorn has maintained that the car accident is why he did not attend the Naval Academy. On his official House biography, it states, “Madison’s plans to serve in the U.S. military were derailed that year after he nearly died in a tragic automobile accident that left him partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair.”
However, in January, The Nation reported that the new member of Congress had misled voters during the campaign about the Naval Academy. It was discovered Cawthorn had already been rejected by the Academy prior to the accident, likely due to low test scores, according to a report by the Asheville Citizen-Times in August 2020.
Additionally, Cawthorn’s claim that he had trained for the 2020 Paralympic Games has come under scrutiny. There is little evidence that he was invited to participate or that he had done the work necessary to qualify for the games. Regardless, Cawthorn said he was forced to stop training for the games because his disability had worsened.
On February 27, The Washington Post published another investigation of Cawthorn’s past statements. In a speech given at Patrick Henry College in January 2017, he claimed that, after the car accident, he was left for dead by his friend and technically died for a short time. He also reiterated the claim that he was planning on attending the Naval Academy at the time of the accident.
That friend, Bradley Ledford, has disputed Cawthorn’s version of events. Ledford had been driving but fell asleep at the wheel, which caused the accident. Counter to Cawthorn’s speech, Ledford says he helped pull his friend from the wreckage. He also says Cawthorn was merely incapacitated, not dead.
As to the claims about the Naval Academy, Cawthorn had defended the discrepancy by saying that at the time of the crash he did not know he had been rejected. However, during a lawsuit deposition related to the car accident, he admitted he had known about the academy’s rejection prior to the accident.
Accusations of predatory behavior
During the 2020 election, multiple women came forward to accuse Cawthorn of sexually aggressive behavior, including a former member of his home-school collective, Katrina Krulikas.
In an Instagram post, Krulikas claimed Cawthorn “force[d] himself on me” when she was 17 and he was 19. Cawthorn denies he was overly aggressive with her and said when he realized she wasn’t interested in him, he took her back to her car. Two other women also came forward following Krulikas’s post with similar accusations against Cawthorn.
Cawthorn’s campaign responded to the accusations by producing the testimony of women who had previously dated the candidate and said he was not forceful. Cawthorn also dismissed Krulikas’s claims as being politically motivated. Krulikas had previously identified as a Democrat.
Just weeks before the November election, 176 current and former students at Patrick Henry College signed a public letter stating that he had “established a reputation for predatory behavior” while a student at the college. The letter goes on to claim that he regularly made “unwanted sexual advances” and frequently demeaned the female students.
Cawthorn said the letter was baseless, claiming it was all “based on rumor.” Ultimately, it did not stop Cawthorn from winning the election.
However, in recent weeks, there have been calls for Cawthorn to step down from office. Critics of Cawthorn have noted that many members of his party have insisted New York Governor Andrew Cuomo should resign following numerous sexual misconduct allegations.
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