Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-Hendersonville, hasn’t even been in office for three weeks but he’s certainly made waves – not just in D.C., but in his Western North Carolina district.
Smoky Mountain News Politics Editor and Blue Ridge Public Radio contributor Cory Vaillancourt interviewed Cawthorn Thursday at his D.C. office, a day after inauguration of President Joe Biden. Vaillancourt spoke with BPR News Editor Matt Bush to talk about Cawthorn’s role in the insurrection that happened January 6th at the Capitol.
Matt Bush: Looking back at his speech at the rally before the insurrection happened, did he express any regrets about what he said that day and how it may have led to the statements he made, how it may have led to people deciding to go to the Capitol and storm it?
Cory Vaillancourt: Rep. Cawthorn has only been in office three weeks as you pointed out, but it's been a tempestuous three weeks. He did say that if he had a crystal ball, he might've added a few things to his speech at the Ellipse rally that featured Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani, Mo Brooks, a number of other figures, but he wouldn't have removed anything. He also said he felt that he made himself very clear that he was going down to the Capitol to speak on behalf of people who felt that they didn't have a voice, and he's repeatedly stressed that the battle over the election was to be fought in the halls of Congress and not out on the streets.
Madison Cawthorn: You know, this is exactly what happened in the Revolutionary War. You know, we just felt like we didn't have any representation so people wanted to go and fight because of that. But I believe I made it very clear. I'm going down to the Capitol to be your representative. You know, your voice is being heard. This debate will be had, and I, I will partake in this debate on your behalf.
MB: Certainly a lot of people were very upset with him, feeling that his words led to the insurrection or he was one of the people whose words, whose speech at that rally on Jan. 6 led to the insurrection. He uses the term battle, talks about the Revolutionary War in that quote. Now, around the time that Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot 10 years ago there seemed to be an effort to remove the language of combat from political campaigns, term like “targeted districts,” “fights,” and “battles.” That vocabulary has pretty much crept back into the political lexicon in the United States, has it not?
CV: It absolutely has. And you know, obviously we have to be careful with our words. When I talked to Rep. Cawthorn about this, he quoted a Bible verse as he often does. He said, “Just as the rudder steers the ship, so too the tongue directs what happens in life.” So he is very aware of what words mean. And he did point out that if we chastised everyone who ever said, “I'm going to go fight for you,” then you have to get rid of every single politician out there because they're all saying, “I'm going to fight for my district.” You know, a fight can be many things. Cawthorn said it can mean fisticuffs or physical confrontation, but it can also mean you're having a fight with your wife about who put the spatula in which drawer.
MC: Obviously you've got to fight back against the onslaught that comes from the other side and, you know, if they're gonna be using aggressive language and aggressive rhetoric, obviously I believe we might have to match that, but I think that there is a discussion that needs to be had of the verbiage and then the lexicon that we do use in political speak.
MB: Some more words the congressman said after the insurrection were on the Charlie Kirk radio show, where he thought Democrats were behind the insurrection, that they paid people to do this to make Trump look bad. There is, of course, no evidence of that. When you asked him about that in your interview with him, what did he say?
CV: He said that there is still a lot we don't know about insurrection. He's right about that, but it does appear there were very few, if any people from the left participating. One group Cawthorn does think shares some of the blame, however, is mainstream media. He says they've been sewing division for 40 or 50 years.
MC: I believe that they share some of the burden of the guilt for this, this mainstream media, of how much we've inflamed, the American electorate, how divided the country is.
MB: One of the biggest things that happened that day was something that nobody's really been quite clear about, but you were able to ask the congressman about this, and that was whether he was armed on the house floor that day. He said he was, he told you that in an earlier interview with you, which happened the day after the insurrection. You asked him about it again.
CV: I did, you know, when I broke that statement he gave less than 24 hours after the insurrection, it caught a lot of attention and people were asking, is that legal? How did that happen? And so there were never really any answers, a lot of publications focused on this from a lot of news outlets. Cawthorn told me today that he said he was not armed on the House floor. He's well aware of the laws that prohibit that. But he did say, he wasn't able to really describe the process because it involves disclosing some security measures, some evacuation routes of Members, and so for the safety of Members of Congress, we're not going to talk about that, but he did say he was able to make it into his office and retrieve a firearm. Firearms, loaded firearms in Members' offices, certainly are legal.
MC: : I also carry a medical kit with me every single day, because, you know, I think that if you are trained and you are willing to make holes in people, you should also be trained and willing to fill holes in people. I think that carrying a firearm is a life saving measure. People are less likely to try and resort to violence if they know, hey, you know what, we're all armed here. It's not just going to be a fist fight.
MB: We're going to break a rule I sort of set for myself and some other people here at the station and talk about 2022 just very briefly here. I wanted to go through how people will govern for the next two years. And obviously we just came out of a very long and grueling election, but let's look at 2022 very briefly here. Republican state Sen. Chuck Edwards of Henderson County has called Cawthorn out a couple of times here since the insurrection for some of the statements he has made. Edwards also raised a lot of money for his reelection to his senate seat last year. And he's going to have a big hand in redrawing the congressional and legislative districts in North Carolina in his role as a state senator. Tell us more about that.
CV: Cawthorn and I both agree that all signs point to Edwards contesting Cawthorn in the primary election in the spring of 2022. Cawthorn is confident and, he says, he believes in the democratic process, he believes in the judgment of the people in his district. He said he thinks he can win an R+1 district. He also thinks the state legislature is behind him as well, so he certainly welcomes the challenge from Edwards or anyone else that might end up throwing their hat in that ring.
MC: I look forward to the challenge, you know, I think that people Western North Carolina will make the right decision. I respect Chuck Edwards. Why he's deciding to attack me in the press, attack a fellow Republican, I think it’ss kind of asinine, looking at what we're up against with Roy Cooper, Joe Biden, a Democrat-held Congress. I think it doesn't make much sense. I mean, he's my state senator in Henderson County, and if you want to fight me in my hometown, come on, anytime.