National Security

House GOP demands testimony from White House aide on Iran deal

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House Republicans are pressing top White House adviser Ben Rhodes to testify on Capitol Hill following controversial comments he made about the Obama administration’s marketing of the nuclear deal with Iran.

Republican leaders of the House Oversight Committee want Rhodes to testify Tuesday morning during a hearing titled “White House narratives on the Iran nuclear deal,” committee spokeswoman M.J. Henshaw told The Hill.

{mosads}Rhodes, the White House’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, has yet to respond to the request, and no one else has so far been asked to appear, Henshaw added.

However, Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has threatened to use a subpoena to demand his presence, one aide said.

In a statement, White House spokesman Eric Schultz accused House Republicans of trying to pick a new fight over the Iran nuclear accord, months after it has gone into effect.

“The Iran deal was debated and scrutinized for months last year. Republicans had vowed to block it, could not muster the votes to do so, and are now seeking to relitigate that old political fight,” Schultz said.

“But with all the serious issues stuck in Congress right now — like preparing for Zika’s arrival, helping Puerto Rico through their financial crisis, providing assistance to the people of Flint, or combatting the opioid epidemic — it is a shame that Chairman Chaffetz is choosing to take a page out of [former committee Chairman] Darrell Issa’s playbook to distract from all the work they should be doing.”

The hearing comes on short notice, just days after Rhodes’s comments in a New York Times Magazine story caused a stir across Washington.  

GOP aides are “rushing” to make the arrangements, a Democratic staffer notified of the plans said.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the oversight panel’s top Democrat, called the move a “break from normal notice rules” that amounted to “reactionary grandstanding.”

“It seems fairly clear what this really is: a partisan rush to attack Ben Rhodes just to chase cheap headlines rather than a substantive review of foreign policy objectives,” he said in a statement.

In the profile of the 38-year-old former fiction writer, Rhodes is quoted as boasting about creating an “echo chamber” of experts and journalists supportive of the deal.

He is depicted as crafting a false narrative that the nuclear deal — which set limits on Iran’s ability to build a nuclear bomb in exchange for lifting international sanctions — would empower the country’s moderates at the expense of hardliners such as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. In fact, the article asserts, the deal was part of a grander plan to reshape the U.S.’s role in the Middle East.

“I mean, I’d prefer a sober, reasoned public debate, after which members of Congress reflect and take a vote,” he is quoted as saying. “But that’s impossible.”

Republicans, who uniformly opposed the Iran deal last year, have aggressively criticized the White House over the remarks.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) accused the administration of having “essentially misled the American people.”

In response, the White House has been on the defensive.

“The facts and substance of the Iran deal are not in question — it has done exactly what we said it would, and the world is a safer place for it,” Schultz said on Wednesday.

In a post on Medium this weekend, Rhodes claimed that the White House’s “concerted effort” to sell the agreement was based upon “the facts of the deal.”

“It wasn’t ‘spin,’ it’s what we believed and continue to believe, and the hallmark of the entire campaign was to push out facts,” he wrote.

On Wednesday, White House aides bought doughnuts for the press corps, in what was seen as an effort to extend an olive branch. 

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