“I think it is important, if you’re going to say something like that, to name some names,” Perry said in a brief interview.
Perry is not alone in that opinion among House Republicans — Cawthorn’s claims caused an internal uproar at Tuesday’s conference meeting. But as aggravated as Cawthorn’s colleagues may be by his salacious tales, they also know that digging more deeply into his stories may cause them more political problems.
And Perry himself could face further questions about Cawthorn’s place in the Freedom Caucus. His remarks are a rare instance of the group’s leader publicly indicating frustration with one of its own.
When asked whether they would reconsider Cawthorn’s membership in the group if he didn’t make clear whom he has evidence of taking part in group sex and drug use, Perry wouldn’t say either way: “We will discuss that when we get to it,” he replied.
The Freedom Caucus is “way ahead of that at this point,” Perry added. “And I haven’t talked to him at all, so I don’t want to predispose the conversation.”
More than one member of the group has raised the idea of kicking Cawthorn out, remarks that are seen as more rattling and venting than an actual likelihood, according to two people familiar with Freedom Caucus dynamics. These people, speaking candidly on condition of anonymity, said Cawthorn’s comments caught many of the group’s members by surprise.
One Freedom Caucus member, also addressing Cawthorn on condition of anonymity, described responses from “across the political spectrum … saying ‘what the hell?’”
“You should have to name names if you are going to go make those kinds of brush stroke accusations and impugn the character of people in this institution or … anybody else in this town,” this House Republican added.
Other group members, however, shrugged it off and said they did not hear the matter raised on Monday night, when the Freedom Caucus met for its broader weekly meeting.
Cawthorn first raised observing “sexual perversion” since he came to Washington during a podcast interview in which he was asked whether the TV show “House of Cards” — which features an ambitious, corrupt congressman trying to rise to power — is “fictitious” or more like a “documentary.”
It was a realistic depiction, Cawthorn suggested to the interviewer, claiming he had gotten sexually pursued and observed cocaine use since his election in 2020.
His comments infuriated his colleagues, some of whom felt unfairly maligned while the freshman firebrand sought to paint himself as above a lurid fray, with some members pointing to how he has faced media reports detailing sexual misconduct allegations against him before he was elected to Congress. The resulting furor went viral, serving as yet another distraction for a House GOP that is trying to prepare its own policy agenda as it looks toward a likely takeover of the chamber this fall.
Within the Freedom Caucus, which still does not publicly disclose its full roster, Cawthorn’s remarks landed with their own force. Multiple Republican aides and members told POLITICO that members of the Freedom Caucus — who support traditional family values — were particularly alarmed by Cawthorn’s seeming readiness to broach sex and drugs.
Separately, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy privately told members of the GOP conference earlier on Tuesday that he is planning to talk to Cawthorn after other lawmakers criticized his willingness to make broad insinuations about his colleagues.
The first-term conservative told the podcast “Warrior Poet Society” that he received invitations along the lines of “‘hey, we’re going to have kind of a sexual get-together at one of our homes, you should come’.” The 26-year-old described his response as: “‘What did you just ask me to come to?’ And then you realize they are asking you to come to an orgy.”
Cawthorn suggested that such behavior was seen from lawmakers in their 60s and 70s. He also claimed to have seen other people who are “leading” efforts to eradicate drug addiction using cocaine in front of him.
During the House GOP’s closed-door meeting on Tuesday, Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) stood up to say that he was compelled to address Cawthorn’s comments despite rarely speaking in that setting, according to Republicans in the room.
Womack added that he — who goes to bed early every night — has fielded uncomfortable questions about who was involved in Cawthorn’s alleged sex parties and drug use.
Cawthorn’s office has declined to comment on his colleagues’ outrage.
Since his election, he’s sparked his fair share of political firestorms, including a House floor tangle with Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) that later prompted an ethics complaint. Cawthorn most recently faced criticism from members of his own party for describing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a “thug” amid Russia’s brutal invasion of his nation.