“The President taking it down over the Atlantic is sort of like tackling the quarterback after the game is over,” Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) said.
Turner, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, says the path the balloon took passed over multiple, high-level missile defense and sensitive nuclear sites and should not have been allowed in American airspace.
“This should never have been allowed to enter the United States. It never should’ve been allowed to complete its mission,” Turner said.
Navy salvage vessels are in the water, collecting the debris from the balloon in about 47 feet of water off the Carolina coast.
Sen. Marco Rubio also believes the balloon should have been brought down earlier. He says if that option placed American lives at risk, as the Pentagon insists, that Biden should have been more transparent about that.
“It really would’ve been helpful for the President of the United States to get in television and explain to the people, this is what we’re dealing with,” Rubio said.
The U.S. Senate is expected to receive a full briefing about the balloon on Feb. 15. But the White House is pushing back and defending their actions.
Biden said when he was briefed on the balloon, he ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down as soon as possible, but later said military officials recommended he wait on that order until the balloon was over water to make sure no one would be harmed from falling debris.
“The President called for this to be dealt with in a way that balanced all the different risks. That’s exactly what happened. The military did a terrific job,” Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg said.
Defense officials say the debris from the balloon explosion spanned some seven miles. Buttigieg says that range shows it was simply not safe to shoot it down over the American mainland.
“And as you know the operation was done without any damage or injury to any American lives or property,” he added.
Without going into much detail, defense officials confirmed Saturday there was some intelligence value in letting the balloon go and monitoring it, analyzing, and assessing its capabilities. Of course, before officials ordered it to be shot down with an American missile.
The situation may sour already tense relations between the U.S. and China. After learning of the balloon, Sec. of State Antony Blinken’s planned trip to Beijing was called off, which was previously seen as an opportunity to ease tension between the superpowers.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry reacted to the U.S. bringing down the balloon, in part, calling it an overreaction:
“… the U.S. insists on using force, obviously overreacting and seriously violating international practice. China will resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of relevant companies, while reserving the right to make further necessary reactions.”
Congressman Mike Gallagher, chairman of the new select committee to investigate China, says the takeaway from the incident should be the brazenness of the Chinese government and its willingness to act in U.S. airspace.
“It shows this isn’t just a matter of territorial disputes in the South China sea or the East China Sea, it’s not just a matter of threats to Taiwan’s freedom. It’s a matter of our own national security, it’s a here at home problem,” Rep. Gallagher said.
The main concern now for many U.S. lawmakers is this incident becoming a pattern. Officials confirm at least four instances in the recent past, under the Trump and Biden administrations, of China entering U.S. airspace.
It’s possible there are more instances involving balloons that we simply aren’t aware of at this time since much of that is classified information. NewsNation checked and found that the Department of Defense’s annual report on China makes no mention of these incidents.
Defense officials did confirm they are tracking at least one more balloon in Central America right now.