Republicans are warning that a suspected spy balloon from China that was seen floating high above the northern United States presents a threat to national security and are calling on President Joe Biden to shoot it down.
Biden requested military options to deal with the balloon, but the Pentagon decided not to shoot it down over concerns that debris could hurt people on the ground, officials said Thursday. A Pentagon official said the balloon is traveling “well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.”
Nevertheless, some GOP lawmakers urged a tougher approach.
“Biden should shoot down the Chinese spy balloon immediately. President Trump would have never tolerated this,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) tweeted on Thursday.
Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), who previously served as Interior Department secretary under Trump, added: “Shoot. It. Down. The Chinese spy balloon is clear provocation. In Montana we do not bow. We shoot it down. Take the shot.”
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) also fired off a letter to the Pentagon with concerns about resulting civilian traffic disruption in his state. “The administration failed to protect our border and now has failed to protect our skies,” Daines wrote.
Trump chimed in soon afterward on his own social media website, writing in a post: “SHOOT DOWN THE BALLOON.”
The heated rhetoric is only the latest chapter in Republican efforts to characterize Biden and other Democrats as soft on China. Others include attacks against Biden’s son Hunter over his Chinese business ties.
A defense official told The Associated Press the spy balloon was trying to fly over U.S. missile fields in Montana, but the U.S. assessed that it had “limited” value in providing China intelligence it couldn’t already collect by other means, such as through spy satellites.
On Friday, China acknowledged the balloon was theirs but called it a “civilian airship” that blew off course.
“The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure. The Chinese side will continue communicating with the US side and properly handle this unexpected situation caused by force majeure,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.