By Pete Kasperowicz - 05/03/12 08:26 PM EDT
The Chinese dissident at the center of a political firestorm called a hearing Thursday and told lawmakers he wants to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng called a hearing set up to explore his efforts to leave China and escape persecution—apparently from a Chinese hospital room.
"I want to meet with Secretary Clinton," he said on the phone. "I hope I can get more help from her. I also want to thank her face to face."
Chen added that he is most concerned with his family, and said, "I really want to know what's going on with them."
Chen is at the center of a diplomatic row between the U.S. and China that has become a political liability for President Obama.
Chen was under house arrest for several months for protesting China's one-child policy, but escaped to the U.S. Embassy, where he stayed for several days.
The U.S. and China appeared to reach a deal Wednesday that allowed Chen to remain in China, where he said he wished to stay.
But after Chen was released to a Chinese hospital to have his injuries treated, the dissident said he did not want to stay in China and requested political asylum in the U.S.
Administration officials insisted they did not pressure Chen to stay in China and that he decided on his own initially that he wanted to remain in his country.
But the about-face has led to criticism from Republicans that U.S. officials never should have allowed him to leave the U.S. embassy.
Commission Chairman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) spent the hearing arguing that the U.S. needs to ensure Chen's safety, and even GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said it is a "day of shame" for the Obama administration if they did leave him with Chinese officials.
The call from Chen to Smith's hearing came after the chairman complained that that the Obama administration failed to get him in touch with Chen via phone earlier in the week.