Chinese dissident Chen makes direct appeal to Congress

Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng phoned a congressional hearing pleading for asylum for himself and his family, Thursday, May 3, 2012.

Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng phoned a congressional hearing
Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng phoned a congressional hearing pleading for asylum for himself and his family, Thursday, May 3, 2012.

UPDATED 5:55 p.m. ET

(CBS News) -- The blind Chinese activist who recently left the U.S. embassy in Beijing on Thursday made a surprising and direct appeal to lawmakers on Capitol Hill to come to the United States.

Calling in to the Congressional Executive Commission on China, dissident Chen Guangcheng told lawmakers he is concerned for the safety of his family and he wants to thank Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her efforts to help him over the past few days.

"I hope I can get more help from her," he said over speakerphone to the two Republican lawmakers who were present.

The 40-year-old lawyer became famous last week after had taken refuge in the U.S. embassy after escaping more than a year and a half of house arrest. In a deal between the U.S. and China, Chen was then released to a Chinese hospital and is now under Chinese control. Chen initially said he wanted to stay in China but shortly after leaving the embassy he changed his mind.

"The thing I (am) most concerned (about) right now is the safety of my mother, my brothers, and I really want to know what's going on with them," Chen said through a translator at Thursday's congressional hearing.

Chen said he wanted to come to the United States for some "rest," because he has not rested for 10 years.

Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng phoned congressional hearing

The dramatic appeal is the latest turn in Chen's case, which has put a strain on U.S.-China relations and has even made its way into U.S. presidential politics.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are in China now for a previously scheduled meeting with Chinese officials on economic and security issues.

Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney accused the Obama administration of putting economic concerns above Chen's freedom and called it a "day of shame for the Obama administration," if accusations that Chen was shooed out of the embassy ahead of those talks are true.

"It's also apparent according to these reports, if they are accurate, that our embassy failed to put in place the kind of verifiable measures that would ensure the safety of Mr. Chen and his family," Romney said.

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U.S. officials have said that Chen left the embassy voluntarily and did not seek asylum while he was legally on U.S. soil at the diplomatic mission in Beijing.

White House spokesman Jay Carney defended the administration's handling of the dissident's situation based on what he wanted at the time. Carney did not address Chen's apparent change of heart.

"U.S. officials and State Department officials made clear to the Chinese that we would, in the implementation of this agreement, continue to monitor Mr. Chen's case," Carney told reporters at the White House.

Additional reporting by Jill Jackson and Carter Yang.


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    CBSNews.com Deputy Politics Editor Corbett B. Daly is based in Washington. He has worked at Reuters, Thomson Financial News and CBS MarketWatch.

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