Cawthorn vs. McKinley: Another intra-GOP spat breaks out on House floor

By | July 30, 2021

A heated confrontation between Reps. Madison Cawthorn and David McKinley over cosponsorship of a bill has escalated to a McKinley staffer filing an ethics complaint against Cawthorn, according to two sources familiar with the move.

The spat began Thursday afternoon when the freshman Cawthorn (R-N.C.) went to find McKinley (R-W.Va.) in his office to discuss what Cawthorn said was his mistaken addition to a bill that he didn’t want his name attached to. But when Cawthorn found McKinley out of the office, the youngest member of Congress instead got into a back-and-forth with the West Virginian’s staff.

The exchange was witnessed by multiple McKinley aides, who saw Cawthorn as raising his voice and dressing down their colleague — telling a legislative staffer to lower her voice because she was speaking to a member of Congress.

The exact allegation in the new ethics complaint that resulted is unclear, and it now falls on the House Ethics Committee to decide whether or not to investigate the complaint. The Cawthorn-McKinley dust-up, however, is only the latest evidence of fraught relations in the House that have begun causing intra-party as well as across-the-aisle friction, with one House conservative challenging Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Thursday over the chamber’s “bulls—” mask mandate.

Cawthorn and McKinley’s melee continued beyond the latter Republican’s office on Thursday. At one point, the conflict turned into a yelling match on the House floor filled with slights and suggestions of retaliation, according to four sources. One onlooker thought the two men’s floor altercation would devolve into a fistfight at one point; it ended Thursday with Cawthorn taking a shot at McKinley as a career politician in an interview.

In the office confrontation, McKinley’s office had apologized for the miscommunication and informed Cawthorn how to remove himself from the bill in question, which they argued would be a speedier solution, according to one source with direct knowledge of the incident.

Cawthorn initially said Thursday that he thought it was a problem for McKinley’s office, which made the mistake, but on Friday morning he successfully did get himself removed.

Cawthorn’s office said that the confusion stemmed from the lawmaker’s mistaken attachment to a drug pricing bill when he had asked to cosponsor separate legislation that would expand telehealth services for substance use disorder treatment.

At one point in the office spat, Cawthorn asked McKinley’s staff if his boss “was that guy with the mustache that nobody f—ing knows.”

Word of the brouhaha traveled quickly around the Hill — so fast that other House Republicans heard about it and raised questions about why Cawthorn hadn’t just sent his staff to handle the situation instead.

They later got a front-row seat as the duo kept fighting on the House floor Thursday night, when Cawthorn approached McKinley and asked: “What is your name?”

McKinley, according to a GOP source, replied: “You know damn well who I am.”

McKinley pressed Cawthorn for attacking his staff, while Cawthorn pushed McKinley to take his name off the bill in question. McKinley, Cawthorn claims, said he wouldn’t agree to do so.

It became a shouting match, with McKinley repeatedly referring to Cawthorn as “junior.”

According to sources later told of the fight, Cawthorn at one point asked McKinley how he would like it if he signed the West Virginia lawmaker onto pro-abortion legislation or pro-weed legislation, comments that some sources say McKinley perceived as a threat do so. Cawthorn had made a similar point while in McKinley’s office with his staff, according to two sources.

Recalling that he criticized McKinley for supporting a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Cawthorn suggested he might use a fellow Republican’s vote against him on the campaign trail.

“I said, ‘Your district will remember that. And if you want to run for re-election and you’re going to sit here and attack me all over this stuff, I will make sure they remember,'” Cawthorn recalled later in an interview. “And then he started getting all kinds of angry.”

Cawthorn then sent letters on Friday to McKinley and the staffer in question. According to one letter reviewed by POLITICO, Cawthorn wrote that he does not “wish for any ill will between our offices” and that he hopes they can put “our differences behind us” and “focus on our true adversaries.”

Cawthorn signed the letter: “Your ally.”

Sarah Ferris and Rachael Bade contributed to this report.