Romney Says Obama Treatment of Chen Means ’Day of Shame’
Romney said yesterday missteps by U.S. diplomats led the human rights lawyer to leave the American embassy in Beijing, putting him in danger of retribution from Chinese authorities.
“If these reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom and it’s a day of shame for the Obama administration,” Romney said during a campaign appearance in Portsmouth, Virginia. “We should stand up and defend freedom wherever it is under attack.”
Chen fled to the U.S. embassy last week, escaping more than four years of house arrest by the Chinese government for his stand against forced sterilizations.
U.S. officials, defending their handling of the situation, said he embraced a deal with the Chinese government to let him remain in the country with his family. Chen later appealed for help from President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Congress to leave China for the U.S.
Chen’s reversal thrust the administration into the type of diplomatic crisis officials wanted to avoid during annual U.S.- China strategic and economic conference meetings attended by Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in Beijing this week.
Change of Heart
“It is clear now that now in the last 12 to 15 hours they as a family have had a change of heart about whether they want to stay in China,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters, referring to Chen and his family.
Romney said the administration pressured Chen to make a decision in order to “move on” to the diplomatic talks, failing to put in “verifiable measures” to assure his safety.
Republican members of Congress also criticized the administration’s handling of the case at a hearing in Washington. A phone call from Chen asking to come to the U.S. was translated for the lawmakers yesterday by Bob Fu, a human- rights advocate who has championed his cause.
Chen, in the call to a congressional panel, said, “I hope I can get more help” from Secretary Clinton.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama is focused on the broader dynamics of the U.S.-China relationship and will continue to push China on human rights.
“I can assure you that the president is not concerned about political back-and-forth on this issue,” he told reporters.
Chen’s case, which initially seemed like a foreign policy success for the administration, now could hurt the president politically, said Kerry Brown, a former U.K. diplomat in China and head of the Asia program at London-based Chatham House.
“It just looks very confusing; it looks like they took one position and then another,” Brown said in a phone interview. “It plays into Romney’s hands” as the candidate completed a two-day campaign swing through Virginia, a potentially pivotal state in November election.
Obama, who in 2008 was the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry Virginia since 1964, officially kicks off his re-election campaign on May 5 with rallies that include a stop in Richmond, the state’s capitol. A Washington Post poll of the state’s registered voters released yesterday shows the president ahead of Romney, 51 percent to 44 percent.
“The coalition of Virginians that propelled him to victory in 2008 -- young voters, suburban Washingtonians, women and African Americans -- is largely intact” for Obama, the Post said of its findings. The poll, conducted April 28-May 2, has an error margin of plus-or-minus 3.5 percentage points.
Romney has assigned Sara Craig, who helped coordinate his efforts in Iowa where caucuses began the nomination race on Jan. 3, to run his general election campaign in Virginia.
Both campaigns and allies of Romney are already broadcasting commercials in the state.
“It is a purple state,” said Romney senior adviser Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee. “It was clearly very important last go-around, and it will be an important state again this go-around.”
The technology boom of the 1990s, an infusion of government workers, and an influx of Hispanics and Asians as well as younger people altered Virginia’s political fabric, making it more hospitable for Democrats and creating the opening for Obama to win it four years ago over Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona. Since then, Republicans have regrouped and made gains, including the election of Bob McDonnell as governor in 2009.
“This may well be the state that decides who the next president is, so you’re going to have to get your neighbors to listen up and hear what you have to say,” Romney told supporters gathered outside a marine construction company near Virginia Beach.
He was introduced by McDonnell, the latest Republican frequently mentioned as a possible vice presidential pick to share a stage with him. Others to do so in recent weeks have included Senators Marco Rubio of Florida, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Rob Portman of Ohio, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Romney has selected aide Beth Myers, who served as his chief of staff throughout his four years as governor of Massachusetts, to head the vetting process for selecting his running mate. Romney hasn’t said when he plans to make his decision and announce his choice.
He was endorsed at his Virginia stop yesterday by Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, a former presidential opponent who left the race after finishing sixth in the Iowa caucuses.
“I think for all of America, this is a very simple proposition this November -- President Barack Obama, President Mitt Romney. You decide. Very easy,” she said.
Romney meets today in Pittsburgh with former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who emerged as his chief rival in the primary campaign. Santorum ended his presidential bid April 10 and the two camps have been in discussions about an endorsement from him.
To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Lerer in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at email@example.com
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