GOP tears into White House aide for hearing no-show

GOP tears into White House aide for hearing no-show
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House Republicans laid into the White House on Tuesday after a senior national security adviser declined to testify on the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran.
 
The White House’s decision not to make Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, available to explain his controversial comments was hypocritical and evidence of a broader evasiveness about the nuclear accord, Republicans on the House Oversight Committee alleged.
 
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In doing so, House Republicans made clear that their fury over the Iran deal has barely diminished since they failed to scuttle it last year. Instead, the GOP’s attitude appears to have evolved from criticism over details of the deal itself — which critics say will only ensure Iran’s ability to acquire a nuclear weapon after a decade — to claims that the process fits into a broader pattern of deception on the part of the Obama administration.
 
 
“You have plenty of time, Mr. Rhodes, to go around and talk to all the media friends and talk to the echo chamber. But when it comes time to actually answer questions under oath, you decide not to do it.”
 
Republican criticism has increasingly come to resemble comments about the Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare, which critics say was marketed around falsehoods that fell apart after the healthcare reform law was passed.  
 
“This isn’t the fist time this administration on some big policy decision has deceived the American people,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).
 
Jordan compared Rhodes’s comments to those of Jonathan Gruber, a former administration adviser whose remarks about the healthcare law were vigorously scrutinized by Congress more than a year ago.
 
“Mr. Gruber deceives the American people on ObamaCare,” Jordan said. “Along comes Mr. Rhodes on the Iranian deal, uses deception to create this false choice [between the deal and war with Iran], helps get this agreement passed.”
 
In a New York Times Magazine profile, Rhodes boasted about having created an “echo chamber” of support for the Iran deal before it came to a vote in Congress last summer. 
 
The article asserted that the White House misled the American public and Capitol Hill by suggesting the nuclear accord was designed to take advantage of a moderating moment within Iran and to avoid a future war with the nation, when actually, the story indicates, the deal was part of a grander plan to realign the United States's stance in the Middle East.

While he declined to appear before the House panel on Tuesday, Rhodes defended himself during an afternoon appearance at the Center for New American Security, a think tank.

“When things like this happen, that’s a part of what happens in Washington,” Rhodes said in response to a question about the magazine story. “The people who know me know what I care about and know how I approach issues and know what motivates me in this job.”

On Capitol Hill, Chaffetz scolded Rhodes for appearing at the think tank event but avoiding his committee.

Publication of the story earlier this month sparked a renewed debate about the merits of the Iran agreement, which went into full effect in January.
 
For Democrats, Tuesday’s hearing was just the latest in a stubborn effort to keep fighting the deal.
 
“The Republicans rushed to hold this hearing not as a way to obtain substantive information about the merits of the Iran agreement, neither to investigate legitimate allegations,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the panel’s top Democrat.
 
“Instead, this hearing is exactly what it purports to condemn: a partisan narrative designed to mislead the American people. That is not just ironic — that is hypocritical.”
 
The White House mocked the committee's efforts to drag Rhodes before the committee in the days before Tuesday’s hearing.
 
“The truth is, it is Republicans in Congress who criticized the Iran deal, who have got a lot to explain when it comes to saying things about the Iran deal that didn’t turn out to be true,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Monday. 
 
“And if they want to hold a hearing to determine whether or not Republicans were just wrong and badly misinformed, or if they were purposefully lying to the American people, then they can do that.”
 
Earnest has previously said Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonHillicon Valley: GOP lawmakers offer election security measure | FTC Dem worries government is 'captured' by Big Tech | Lawmakers condemn Apple over Hong Kong censorship Lawmakers condemn Apple, Activision Blizzard over censorship of Hong Kong protesters Lawmakers set to host fundraisers focused on Nats' World Series trip MORE (R-Ark.), Rep. Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarOvernight Energy: House moves to block Trump drilling | House GOP rolls out proposal to counter offshore drilling ban | calls mount for NOAA probe House approves two bills to block Trump drilling House GOP rolls out energy proposal to counter Democrats offshore drilling ban MORE (R-Ariz.) and other critics of the agreement should be forced to testify about their comments that were “wildly wrong or lying.”
 
Republicans attempted to call the administration’s bluff.
 
“Here I am,” Gosar, a member of the Oversight Committee, said Tuesday. “Where is Ben Rhodes? I guess you can run and hide.”
 
Cotton, who has previously sparred with Earnest over the Iran deal, had planned to testify following the White House spokesman’s comments. But that offer was contingent on Rhodes’s appearance, lawmakers said. 
 
Instead of hearing from Rhodes and Cotton, lawmakers on Tuesday questioned three foreign policy experts from right-leaning think tanks. Among them was John Hannah, a former official with the George W. Bush administration ahead of the invasion of Iraq.
 
“I find it incredibly hypocritical to invite Mr. Hannah — who worked for Dick Cheney and helped market the Iraq War based on false pretenses — to come now before us as an expert witness on alleged White House false narratives,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who opposed the Iran deal but nonetheless criticized the GOP’s continued attacks.
 
“I find the hypocrisy really beyond belief.”
 
The White House had originally appeared to rule out asserting executive privilege to keep Rhodes from testifying before the committee last week but then seemed to backtrack in a letter on Monday, saying he would not appear.
 
Chaffetz has threatened to subpoena Rhodes to bring him before the committee, but the White House could ignore that demand as well.
 
“We wanted to get the person who is right in the thick of things from the White House to come here and testify,” Chaffetz said.
 
“The White House on Thursday claimed that this wasn’t about executive privilege, and then less than 24 hours before this hearing, they reversed course and said this was about executive privilege,” he added.
 
“Now who’s being inconsistent?”
 
Updated at 4:09 p.m. Jordan Fabian contributed.