House lawmakers draft resolution to condemn Chinese spy balloon

House lawmakers are prepping a bipartisan resolution to condemn China after the U.S. shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the weekend, which ratcheted up tensions between Washington and Beijing.

Though Republicans have sharply criticized the Biden administration for waiting for days as the balloon traveled across the continental U.S. to South Carolina before shooting it down, the resolution is not expected to focus blame on President Biden.

“We want it to be a bipartisan resolution about China, not about us fighting each other,” Rep. Mike McCaul, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters Monday night. “Because it’s too important of an issue, you know. We want to stand strong together against China instead of having our internal fights.”

McCaul said he sent a draft resolution to Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), the ranking member of the panel, who has “made his comments.” The two were set to meet Monday evening to “hash it out,” according to McCaul.

He said the resolution could be released as soon as this week.

“Clearly, we’re focused on condemning China for sending a spy balloon into United States territory. Obviously, we have a lot more questions about what happened, and when the administration knew it,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) said Monday.

“Those are separate questions going on, and we need to have a briefing on it. But in the meantime, we’re trying to get an agreement with” the committees working on the proposal, he added.

Talk of a resolution comes the same week Biden is set to deliver the State of the Union address. McCaul said that event factored into his thinking about whether to write the resolution with a partisan edge.

“My strong recommendation was to make it bipartisan because with the State of the Union, I just think it’s important that we focus on our adversary China, rather than our internal politics or divisions,” he said.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said he will get a “gang of eight” intelligence briefing — alongside bipartisan congressional leaders as well as the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees — on the Chinese balloon sometime this week. He is pushing for a briefing open to all House members.

McCarthy said his questions will include why the U.S. did not shoot down the balloon earlier, when it was detected, and inquiries about other balloons detected in the past that were only assessed to be balloons later.

Gen. Glen VanHerck, the head of U.S. Northern Command, said Monday that the Defense Department assessed the presence of previous balloons  in or near U.S. airspace during the Trump administration after the fact through other means of information collection.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that Biden had authorized the military to take down the balloon last Wednesday, and officials waited to shoot it down over water so the debris would not harm any Americans.

McCarthy was not convinced that there was not a safe way to take down the balloon earlier.

“If you allow them to enter a sovereign nation of America in the airspace, what does that say? I would send a very clear message that you’re never going to enter,” McCarthy said.

“You could do it over Alaska without any problem. You could have done it over northern Idaho. You could have done it in Montana. These are not high populated areas that gave you a lot of opportunity.”

China last week denied that the balloon was spying on the U.S., claiming it was a weather balloon that went off course.

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Lawmakers gear up to grill Biden officials over Chinese spy balloon

Lawmakers are planning to probe the Biden administration for what they are calling a failure to protect national security as a Chinese spy balloon flew over the U.S. for several days before it was shot down Saturday. 

While there has been no official announcement of an investigation yet, House Republicans are itching to grill the Biden administration for allowing a foreign adversary’s surveillance device to breach U.S. airspace, and letting it stay there for days. 

President Biden reportedly decided to shoot down the balloon on Wednesday, but the military waited to carry out those orders until it had floated over the ocean. It’s unclear why the U.S. was confident it did not pose a safety or security threat in those intervening days. 

The incident has inflamed already fraught tensions with China, and GOP lawmakers have said it’s another sign of U.S. weakness in the face of rising threats from Beijing. 

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), said he was “deeply concerned by the Biden administration’s decision to allow the spy balloon to traverse the United States.”

“The White House must provide answers about why they decided to allow a [Chinese Communist Party] spy balloon to cross the United States and what damage to our national security occurred from this decision,” he said in a Saturday statement . “The United States must project strength to deter China — this failure is another example of weakness by the Biden administration.”

The HASC has already scheduled a hearing on Tuesday morning to hear from non-governmental witnesses on the “pressing threat of the Chinese Communist Party to U.S. national defense.”

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee, also expressed concerns the Biden administration did not “take care” of the balloon before it became a “national security threat.”

“I will be demanding answers and will hold the admin accountable for this embarrassing display of weakness,” McCaul said in a statement.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), a member of the HASC, took the issue a step further, calling on Biden and Vice President Harris to resign.

“When the domestic attack occurs, Biden and Harris will not be able to adequately respond,” Wilson tweeted.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) first detected the balloon north of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska on Jan. 28. The U.S. military did not shoot it down then, as “it wasn’t time,” NORAD commander Gen. Glen VanHerck told reporters Monday. 

The Pentagon informed reporters about the balloon five days later, on Feb. 2, after reports of sightings over Montana, home to one of the nation’s three nuclear missile fields, sparking concerns that China may have collected potentially compromising national security information.

While Democrats have largely defended the Pentagon’s response, Montana’s Democratic Sen. Jon Tester said he was “demanding answers” from the Biden administration and announced he would hold a hearing as chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. 

“I will be pulling people before my committee to get real answers on how this happened, and how we can prevent it from ever happening again,” Tester said in a Friday statement.

Ian Johnson, a senior fellow for China studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said there should be a “cooling off period” before any investigations, arguing the incident is a national security issue that shouldn’t be used for scoring political points.

Johnson added the Biden administration was in a “bind”: either wait, or shoot the balloon down over land and potentially injure people or damage structures on the ground, which would have caused its own scandal.

“I don’t think there are traitors in the Pentagon,” he said. “These allegations of an outrageous breach of our national security doesn’t make sense to me unless you’re accusing the Pentagon of gross incompetence, which I don’t think is the case.”

The Pentagon tracked the balloon, reportedly about 200 pounds and the size of three school buses, as it floated undisturbed all the way toward the Atlantic Ocean, where it was shot down by a fighter jet on Saturday off the coast of South Carolina. Recovery operations to salvage the equipment attached to the balloon are underway.

China is calling the balloon a civilian weather research airship and has expressed anger about the U.S. shooting it out of the sky. 

But the Pentagon is confident that it was a surveillance device, noting they have seen the spy balloons before, including in the Pacific near Hawaii and in other countries. A second spy balloon has been sighted in Latin America.

The Biden administration has said it brought the surveillance device down as as soon as it was safe to do so.

“Today’s deliberate and lawful action demonstrates that President Biden and his national security team will always put the safety and security of the American people first,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a Sunday statement , “while responding effectively to the [People’s Republic of China’s] unacceptable violation of our sovereignty.”

A senior defense official also said on Sunday there was value in tracking the balloon and they “took all necessary steps to protect against” the collection of sensitive information.

“We were able to study and scrutinize the balloon and its equipment, which has been valuable,”  the official said, according to a Pentagon release. 

Several Republican senators have also called for investigations, including Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the vice chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, on Sunday called Biden’s response a “dereliction of duty” for his delay in acknowledging the spy balloon in an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

But the questions now go beyond just the Pentagon’s response to the Chinese spy balloon that made headlines in recent days. 

On Sunday, U.S. officials confirmed the Trump administration was apparently unaware of three previous incidents in which Chinese balloons flew over the continental U.S. under its watch.

Vanherck told reporters on Monday that intelligence analysts learned of those three balloon incursions only after the fact, which he called a “domain awareness gap that we have to figure out.”

Johnson, from the Council on Foreign Relations, said the bigger question right now should be why the Chinese are deploying surveillance balloons — and lawmakers should set aside politics to figure it out. 

“There’s so many question marks that need to be answered, there’s so many holes in the story, we just lack a lot of facts,” Johnson said. “In the Cold War, there was more bipartisan effort at solving and treating [threats] as a national security issue, rather than as a way to score points politically. The spirit of bipartisanship is lacking.”

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Greene calls for probe into why Trump was unaware of previous Chinese balloons

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) on Monday called for a probe into why former President Trump was apparently not informed of previous Chinese surveillance balloons that Biden officials are saying crossed over the U.S. at least three times during the previous administration.

“If it’s true the Pentagon purposely did NOT tell President Trump of Chinese Spy Balloons during his administration then we had a serious breach in command during the Trump admin,” Greene said on Twitter. 

“The POTUS is the Commander in Chief. We must investigate and hold accountable those who broke rank,” the longtime Trump ally said. 

President Biden ordered the U.S. military on Saturday to shoot down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that had spent days floating over the country in what defense officials later said was a clear effort to spy on sensitive sites. 

A Pentagon official revealed on Sunday that similar aircraft had been spotted at least three additional times under Trump , but the former president swiftly denied that balloons had entered U.S. airspace on his watch. 

Former Trump national security adviser John Bolton said he was not aware of any such incidents during his tenure — and other Trump administration officials have chimed in with the same. 

Bloomberg reported Sunday , citing a senior administration official, that the U.S. didn’t learn about the previous balloon flights until after Biden had replaced Trump in the Oval Office — though it remains unclear how the Biden officials eventually learned about the past incidents.

The defense official noted that previous flights — including an additional sighting at the beginning of the Biden administration — had not transited U.S. airspace for as long as the balloon recently shot down. 

It was downed off the coast of the Carolinas, and the administration is working to recover its parts.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Monday that recovering the balloon will take time but “we can then exploit what we recover and learn even more than we have learned.”

Rep. Jim Himes (Conn.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, agreed on Monday that the U.S. will “learn a lot” about China’s surveillance operations from the recovered materials.

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