Kevin McCarthy Backs Madison Cawthorn Re-Election Despite Zelensky Insult

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy condemned Rep. Madison Cawthorn for calling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a "thug."

McCarthy, who stayed mum on the issue for days as other Republicans criticized Cawthorn for the remark, told reporters Friday that he's spoken to freshman congressman from North Carolina.

"Madison is wrong," McCarthy said. "If there's any thug in this world it's [Vladimir] Putin."

On March 10, WRAL reported the video in which Cawthorn told his supporters to "remember that Zelensky is a thug" and "that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies."

Cawthorn's comments were a split from the rest of the GOP, as Zelensky has received bipartisan praise and support from Congress. Now, the video of Cawthorn bashing Zelensky is reportedly being used in Russian state propaganda.

Republican Senator Joni Ernst lectured Cawthorn on the floor of the Senate for his comments.

"The Ukrainians want to be free, they have been fighting for this for the past 30 years and to just hand them over to an actual murderous thug called Vladimir Putin, is the wrong thing to do," Ernst said last week. "So to my colleague in the house, I would push back and say it's not Ukraine that is invading Russia, it is Russia that is invading Ukraine."

Zelensky received a standing ovation from lawmakers after addressing Congress on March 16. In his rousing speech, Zelensky said he was "grateful" for the support from the U.S. but pleaded for additional aid.

"Today, the Ukrainian people are defending not only Ukraine, we are fighting for the values of Europe and the world, sacrificing our lives in the name of the future," Zelensky said. "That's why today the American people are helping not just Ukraine, but Europe and the world to give the planet the life to keep justice in history."

Cawthorn is running for re-election in North Carolina's 11th Congressional District. While McCarthy criticized Cawthorn for the remarks targeting Zelensky, the Republican leader said he still supports McCarthy's bid for a second term.

McCarthy: Cawthorn ‘Wrong’ to Call Zelensky Thug
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Rep. Madison Cawthorn was "wrong" to call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a "thug." Above, McCarthy talks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center on March 18 in Washington, D.C. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

After his initial remarks calling Zelensky a "thug" were reported, Cawthorn expressed support for Ukraine on Twitter. "I am praying for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people," he wrote.

After Zelensky's speech to Congress, Cawthorn said the Ukrainian people have "inspired the world" but advised the U.S. not to get directly involved in the conflict.

"The Ukrainian people's resilience in the face of Russian aggression has inspired the world. The commitment they have shown to the preservation of their sovereign nation "America must, however, not entangle itself in another war or act in a manner that endangers the lives of American soldiers," Cawthorn said in a statement. "A war with Russia does not further the interests of America or the national security of the United States."

Newsweek reached out to Cawthorn's office for comment but didn't receive a response before publication.