Republicans rip Obama's handling of Chinese activist Chen

Republican lawmakers on Thursday assailed the Obama administration's handling of human rights activist Chen Guangcheng. 

A State Department deal ensuring that Chen would be able to remain safely in China quickly unraveled Wednesday after Chen had second thoughts and pleaded for President Obama to let him into the United States. 

The change of heart appears to have taken place after Chinese police surrounded Chen in his hospital room after he left the embassy to get treated for injuries sustained during his escape from house arrest 10 days ago.

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"It should have been obvious to U.S. officials all along that there is no way to guarantee Mr. Chen's safety so long as he is within reach of the Chinese police state," House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said in a statement. "The U.S. should not have given in to Chinese pressure for Chen to be taken out of the safety of the U.S. embassy."

White House press secretary Jay Carney insisted at his daily briefing that Chen initially had told U.S. officials that he wanted to stay in China. Ambassador Gary Locke also told reporters Thursday that Chen left the embassy of his own volition Thursday to go to a hospital and be reunited with his family. 

Separately, Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) — a potential running mate for Mitt Romney — and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) jointly called on Obama to grant Chen and his family political asylum in the United States, a move that's certain to upset the Chinese government. The Chinese foreign ministry has asked for a formal apology from the United States for harboring Chen at the embassy.

"Chen has bravely stood up to the Chinese government and protested its abhorrent human rights practices," they said in a joint statement. "The U.S. should never apologize for promoting human rights and protecting courageous human rights activists like Chen."

The senators said they would introduce a resolution when the Senate is back in session Monday "expressing support for Chen and calling on the Chinese government to end the persecution of human rights activists and their families."

Ros-Lehtinen expressed similar views.

"This case is a high-profile reminder of the terrible human rights situation in China that too often has gone unchallenged by the United States," she said. "Time and again, U.S. officials have chosen not to raise the Chinese regime’s abuse of dissidents, brutal forced abortion policy, suppression of free speech, and denial of basic human rights. 

"The administration must support Mr. Chen's freedom to choose where he and his family can live in safety. Failing to ensure Mr. Chen's safety would send a negative message to all those around the world struggling against oppression, and make them question whether the United States will stand with them or their oppressors."