Madison Cawthorn facts for kids
Quick facts for kids
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from North Carolina's 11th district
January 3, 2021
|Preceded by||Mark Meadows|
|Succeeded by||Chuck Edwards (Congressman-Elect)|
David Madison Cawthorn
August 1, 1995
Asheville, North Carolina, U.S.
(m. 2020; sep. 2021)
David Madison Cawthorn (born August 1, 1995) is an American politician who has served as the U.S. representative for North Carolina's 11th congressional district since 2021. A member of the Republican Party, he is the first member of Congress born in the 1990s and the third-youngest in U.S. history. He describes himself as a Christian and a constitutional conservative.
After working as a staffer for Republican Congressman Mark Meadows, Cawthorn was elected to succeed the departing Meadows in 2020. Cawthorn lost his reelection bid in the 2022 Republican primary to Chuck Edwards.
Early life and education
Cawthorn was born on August 1, 1995, in Asheville, North Carolina, to Priscilla and Roger Cawthorn. He was home-schooled in Hendersonville, North Carolina, through 12th grade, and played football with the Asheville Saints, a league that includes home-schooled high school students. As a teenager, he worked at a Chick-fil-A restaurant.
In 2014, at age 18, Cawthorn was seriously injured while returning from a spring-break trip to Florida. He was riding as a passenger in a BMW X3 SUV near Daytona Beach, Florida, when his friend Bradley Ledford fell asleep at the wheel. The injuries from the accident left Cawthorn partially paralyzed, and he now uses a wheelchair. He said he accrued $3 million in medical debt during his recovery; he has received that amount as settlement from an insurance company, as well as other payments, and as of February 2021 is seeking $30 million more.
U.S. Representative Mark Meadows nominated Cawthorn to the United States Naval Academy in 2014, but his application was rejected before his 2014 car accident; Cawthorn falsely claimed during his congressional campaign in advertisements that the accident "derailed" his plans to attend the Academy. Cawthorn subsequently said that at the time of the injury, he knew only that he had been nominated to the Academy and that he had expected to be accepted, and added that he never said that he had been accepted before the accident took place, but could have applied again later. In a lawsuit deposition, Cawthorn admitted that he had been rejected before the accident. He would therefore have had to be nominated again in a subsequent year to be reconsidered.
During the fall 2016 semester, Cawthorn attended Patrick Henry College, studying political science, but earned mostly D grades and dropped out. He said his grades were low primarily because his injuries had interfered with his ability to learn. Cawthorn said in a deposition, "You know, suffering from a brain injury after the accident definitely I think it slowed my brain down a little bit. Made me less intelligent. And the pain also made reading and studying very difficult." He also said he withdrew due to "heartbreak" after his fiancée broke up with him.
From January 2015 to August 2016, Cawthorn worked as a staff assistant in Representative Mark Meadows's district office. He told the Asheville Citizen-Times he worked there "full-time", but it was a part-time role.
Cawthorn is the owner and CEO of SPQR Holdings, LLC, a real estate investment firm in Hendersonville. The firm was started in August 2019 and reported no income; Cawthorn is its sole employee. As of August 2020, the company had been involved in only one real estate transaction, purchasing a 6-acre property for $20,000, in a foreclosure auction.
U.S. House of Representatives
In the March 2020 Republican primary for North Carolina's 11th congressional district, Cawthorn finished second behind Lynda Bennett, who had been endorsed both by President Donald Trump and Cawthorn's former mentor, Meadows, who had become White House Chief of Staff. But Bennett did not receive the required 30% of the vote to avoid a runoff and Cawthorn won the June runoff overwhelmingly. He was supported by many local leaders and endorsed by Mark Walker, the vice chairman of the House Republican Conference. His victory has been called an upset. Cawthorn benefited from false and misleading claims that Bennett was a "Never-Trumper".
During the 2020 general campaign, a 2017 Cawthorn Instagram post with a picture of his visit to Adolf Hitler's vacation residence Eagle's Nest, which he said had been on his "bucket list for a while", generated criticism and allegations of far-right sympathies. He had referred to Hitler as "the Führer", Hitler's official title, and also called Hitler "a supreme evil". In response, Cawthorn denied being a white supremacist, calling the allegations ridiculous, and said he "completely and wholeheartedly denounce[s] any kind of white nationalism, any kind of Nazism". The Anti-Defamation League's analyst Mark Pitcavage said he did not see much merit in the accusations against Cawthorn. Some Jewish residents of his congressional district expressed concern about the incident, including Esther Manheimer, mayor of Asheville, the district's largest city. Cawthorn deleted the Instagram post on August 10.
Cawthorn spoke on the third day of the 2020 Republican National Convention. During his election bid, Cawthorn's campaign created an attack website which criticized journalist Tom Fiedler, who had produced investigative pieces on Cawthorn and had written favorably about his opponent. The website accused Fiedler of leaving academia "to work for non-white males, like Cory Booker, who aims to ruin white males running for office." The sentence on the website was later modified to claim Fiedler is "an unapologetic defender of left-wing identity politics". Cawthorn released a statement saying he had intended "to condemn" such political opinion as being "dangerous and divisive" and said that he "condemned racism and identity politics throughout [his] campaign." Ben Mathis-Lilley, writing for Slate, observed that Cawthorn's apology "convolutedly expressed regret for 'having unfairly implied I was criticizing Cory Booker,' which is notable in that it is not an apology for attacking the journalist in question, Tom Fiedler, as a traitor to his race."
In the November general election, Cawthorn defeated Democratic nominee Moe Davis. He took office on January 3, 2021.
Cawthorn is the youngest Republican and one of the youngest members ever elected to the House of Representatives.
In November 2021 Cawthorn first declared his intention to run for a second term in the new 13th congressional district, which includes Cleveland County and other counties west of Charlotte. Members of Congress are not required to live in the district they represent but merely in the same state; Cawthorn is registered to vote in the new 14th district. He wrote on Twitter that he was running in the 13th district because otherwise "another establishment, go-along-to-get-along Republican would prevail there." According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, opposition to Cawthorn in his current district, including by former supporters, "appears to provide a political rationale" for his decision.
Cawthorn later filed to run again in the 11th District, after new maps were approved in February.
On May 17, 2022, Cawthorn conceded to Republican primary challenger Chuck Edwards. Edwards had been supported by Senator Thom Tillis and most of the North Carolina legislature. Railing against "the cowardly and weak members of our own party", Cawthorn wrote, "It's time for the rise of the new right, it's time for Dark MAGA to truly take command." "Dark MAGA" references a fringe movement advocating a vengeful return of Trumpism.
14th Amendment challenge
In January 2022, a group of North Carolina voters formally challenged Cawthorn's qualifications to run again, "citing his participation in a rally last January in Washington that questioned the presidential election outcome and preceded the Capitol riot." The challenge is based on the third section of the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits anyone who has "engaged in insurrection or rebellion" against the U.S. government from holding public office. Under North Carolina law, the burden is on Cawthorn to show through a preponderance of the evidence that he is not an insurrectionist. The challenge was on hold while redistricting litigation continued.
Cawthorn filed suit in U.S. court to dismiss the challenge before the state elections board could hear it. The North Carolina attorney general's office, citing a 1919 application of the amendment to a congressman who had violated the Espionage Act, argued that the Fourteenth Amendment could apply to Cawthorn "if a state board determines he aided or encouraged the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol." In March 2022, Judge Richard Myers ruled in Cawthorn's favor based on an 1872 law that gave amnesty to Civil War insurrectionists, but on May 24, 2022, an appeals court ruled that this law applied only to people who committed "constitutionally wrongful acts" before 1872. The appeals court did not determine whether Cawthorn is eligible for office; it only determined that the 1872 law does not shield him.
During his candidacy and time in Congress, Cawthorn has been known for incendiary rhetoric and promulgating conspiracy theories. He had said he intended to use his position to be a messenger rather than a legislator, writing to his colleagues, "I have built my staff around comms rather than legislation." Cawthorn subsequently closed all but one district office.
In December 2020, at a Turning Point USA conference in Florida, Cawthorn said that he would try to contest the 2020 United States presidential election results when Congress counted the Electoral College votes in January, citing fraud, though there was no evidence that fraud affected the election results. He subsequently used conspiracy theories about fraud to run advertisements and raise money for himself. He called on the TPUSA event's attendees to "lightly threaten" their representatives.
Cawthorn took his seat as U.S. Representative at the start of the 117th Congress on January 3, 2021.
Before Trump supporters stormed the United States Capitol on January 6, Cawthorn addressed the crowd and said, "this crowd has some fight." He voted not to certify the Electoral College results in Congress. He repeated the false conspiracy theories that there was widespread fraud in the election. After the riots, Cawthorn denounced the violence and said, "The party as a whole should have been much more wise about their choice of words." He later attempted to blame the riots on a "Democratic machine" of "agitators strategically placed inside of this group", amid intensifying calls for his resignation for his part in stoking the riots.
On January 20, the day of Joe Biden's inauguration, Cawthorn was one of 17 newly elected House Republicans to sign a letter congratulating him and expressing hope of bipartisan cooperation. On January 22, 2021, the government watchdog group Campaign for Accountability asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate Cawthorn's role in the January 6 Capitol riot.
On January 23, on CNN Newsroom, Pamela Brown asked Cawthorn about his views of the election results, to which Cawthorn eventually responded that there was no voter fraud. He said, "You know, the Constitution allowed for us to be able to push back as much as we could and I did that to the amount of the constitutional limits that I had at my disposal. So now I would say that Joseph R. Biden is our president". According to Time, Cawthorn was "trying to have it both ways. One day, he's preaching about respecting the office of the Presidency and vowing to work across the aisle with Democratic colleagues. The next, he's trumpeting dangerous conspiracies to right-wing crowds and commentators."
In late February 2021, Cawthorn and a dozen other Republican House members skipped votes and enlisted others to vote for them, citing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But he and the other members were actually attending the Conservative Political Action Conference, which was held at the same time as their absences. In response, the Campaign for Accountability, an ethics watchdog group, filed a complaint with the House Committee on Ethics and requested an investigation into Cawthorn and the other lawmakers. In July 2021, another ethics complaint was filed against Cawthorn by an aide to Representative David McKinley.
Cawthorn reacted to the not guilty verdict in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse by offering Rittenhouse an internship, saying, "You have a right to defend yourself, so be armed, be dangerous and be moral".
During the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, Cawthorn said "the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies." Cawthorn wrote on Twitter that his comments were based on Zelenskyy's having allegedly spread misinformation directed at Americans. Alyssa Farah Griffin, for whom Cawthorn once interned, condemned his comments as based on ignorance and spreading Russian propaganda.
In April 2022, American Muckrakers PAC requested an ethics investigation of Cawthorn's relationship with his aide Stephen Smith, Cawthorn's second cousin. The request said that Cawthorn had provided more than $250 worth of free housing and travel to Smith, in violation of House rules, providing documents that appear to show Smith lives for free in a house owned by Cawthorn.
In May 2022, The Daily Beast reported that Blake Harp, Cawthorn's chief of staff, who was paid $131,278 in that position in 2021, also received $73,237 in that year from Cawthorn's campaign, despite House ethics rules that limit senior staff to earning $29,595 in outside income each year. Harp has also received payments from the campaign committee of Harp's mother, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress. Harp was Cawthorn's campaign manager in 2020, becoming chief of staff in 2021.
On May 17, 2022, Cawthorn lost renomination to Chuck Edwards, a state senator.
During his 2020 campaign, Cawthorn said that he would "like to be the face of the Republican Party when it comes to health care."
Cawthorn identifies as a constitutional conservative. In 2021, he joined the House Freedom Caucus, a caucus of conservative House Republicans. He describes himself as "fiscally conservative", says his stance on immigration is "conservative", and supports legal gun ownership, opposing gun control legislation.
Cawthorn supports legal same-sex marriage. He also supports removing Confederate statues because they commemorate secession from the U.S, though in June 2021 he voted against a bill that would remove statues of white supremacists and Confederates from the U.S. Capitol.
Cawthorn has said that climate change is "pretty minimal".
Cawthorn falsely asserts that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent. One time when pressed during an interview he backtracked on the claim.
- United States House Committee on Education and Labor
- United States House Committee on Veterans' Affairs
- Republican Study Committee
- Freedom Caucus
Cawthorn describes himself as a Christian. He has an older brother, Zachary.
Cawthorn married Cristina Bayardelle, a college student and competitive CrossFit athlete, in a December 2020 civil ceremony, followed by an April 2021 outdoor ceremony. In December 2021, Cawthorn announced they were getting divorced.
Cawthorn said that he trained in wheelchair racing for the 2020 Summer Paralympics, but never competed at a qualifying level and was not involved in a team.
|Republican||Albert Wiley Jr.||393||0.4|
|Republican||Steve Fekete Jr.||175||0.2|
|Republican||Madison Cawthorn (incumbent)||28,092||31.9|
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