Republicans have seized on the news that a Chinese surveillance balloon is flying over the northern U.S. to cast President Biden and the Defense Department as failing to protect national security.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) quickly called for a briefing for the Gang of Eight, the top members of Congress who receive classified intelligence from the executive branch, expressing concern about the breach of U.S. airspace.
“China’s brazen disregard for U.S. sovereignty is a destabilizing action that must be addressed, and President Biden cannot be silent,” McCarthy tweeted.
Former President Trump called to “SHOOT DOWN THE BALLOON” on his social media platform Truth Social on Friday morning, echoing calls from multiple Republican lawmakers on Twitter.
“Biden should shoot down the Chinese spy balloon immediately,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) agreed on Thursday. “President Trump would have never tolerated this. President Trump would have never tolerated many things happening to America.”
The Pentagon on Thursday identified the aircraft as a “high altitude surveillance balloon” and said it would not shoot it down because falling debris would pose a risk to people on the ground.
China urged calm on Friday morning before denying those claims. In a statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it was a civilian research ship studying weather that blew off course.
Beijing expressed regret that the aircraft had entered U.S. airspace, saying the government “has no intention of violating the territory and airspace of any sovereign country.”
The U.S. has yet to respond to the Chinese claims. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has reportedly postponed a trip to Beijing to meet with his counterpart next week after the balloon was spotted.
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) fired off an angry letter to the Pentagon on Thursday night after the balloon was reported by Defense officials as last seen over his state, where there is a major Air Force base housing nuclear missiles.
“I am demanding answers from the Biden administration about the spy balloon that flew over our airspace,” Daines tweeted. “The administration failed to protect our border and now has failed to protect our skies.”
Defense Department officials said the balloon posed no military or physical threat and said it was not collecting sensitive information.
But some Republican lawmakers tied the entry of the Chinese balloon into U.S. airspace to the issues plaguing the southern border.
“Let’s see — an open southern border and a Chinese spy balloon floating across the U.S.,” Sen. Erich Schmitt (R-Mo.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, tweeted Friday morning. “Maybe we should focus on America’s national interests.”