A U-Haul box labeled “trash,” a case of La Croix and a visual aid from September 2021 were all seen in a box truck outside of Representative Madison Cawthorn’s office on a Wednesday night in October, where staff was getting a head start on cleaning out his office. It was the first inkling that Cawthorn was throwing in the towel. By the November lame duck session, he’d cleaned out his furniture and nameplate.
Does this mean that Cawthorn has abandoned his constituents once again? It’s tricky.
According to the Committee on House Administration, departing members of Congress have until November 30 to remove their belongings. They select different “move out” days, so Cawthorn’s staff cleaning out his office isn’t entirely newsworthy. Retiring NC representatives G.K. Butterfield and David Price are probably packing up, or starting to get their offices ready for the flip.
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A senior staffer in the North Carolina delegation confirmed that while it isn’t a shock for Cawthorn to be moving out at this time, it’s remarkable because he still has about two months as a congressman, and he hasn’t been particularly present in North Carolina or on Capitol Hill.
Since losing the May 2022 Republican primary to state senator Chuck Edwards, Cawthorn has gone from the GOP’s rising star to a name without a face. He has always struggled with constituent services, but all but one of his local offices are closed, and his main Hendersonville office is only tackling existing constituent services cases. When calling his office as a non-constituent, you are rerouted to Congress’s call center. When calling as a constituent without a pending case, the phones route you to a voicemail for the Hendersonville office. Only when saying I was a constituent with an active case was I able to speak with an actual human on the other line.
While his presence in North Carolina has left something to be desired, he has been making himself known in Florida. On October 6, he was supposed to speak at a Duplin County GOP banquet — but he missed it in favor of spending time in Florida to help victims of Hurricane Ian. When Ian hit North Carolina, he was the only congressman who didn’t sign on to ask Biden to declare a state of emergency. Last week, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported that he purchased a $1 million house in Florida. It’s unclear whether or not he voted on Election Day in North Carolina.
Since the primary, Cawthorn has selected a proxy — meaning he requested another member of Congress to vote for him in his absence — 11 times since his loss. The Washington Post reported in October that he voted by proxy 86 times. He and Florida Representative Maria Elvira Salazar are tied for the most proxy designations in the Republican Party since being sworn in. The voting by proxy method was initially established to prevent the spread of COVID; Cawthorn has consistently criticized COVID protocol during his time in the House of Representatives. Proxy voting isn’t illegal, and Cawthorn is not the first one to indulge in it. Also, Democrats are far more likely to take advantage of the policy. Yet, for Cawthorn, it still may be hypocritical.
He has also missed seven votes of the 358 since April 2022; Salazar, by comparison, missed five. Compared to North Carolina representatives, those missed votes are a fraction of what they could be. In that same timespan, Rep. Virginia Foxx missed 49 votes, and Senator-elect Ted Budd missed a whopping 86 votes. David Price had the highest number of missed votes among NC Democrats with 25 missed votes.
The Washington Post story quotes multiple Republicans in Western North Carolina who say he’s nowhere to be found; in May, a staffer told me that Cawthorn only had a single office in western North Carolina, despite listing four on his House website.
Cawthorn’s fall from grace among the Republican party was swift and permanent, so it isn’t entirely surprising that he went into hiding. It is, however, disappointing. Whatever he pursues next, hopefully he can find the time to be more present.