Republicans criticized President Joe Biden’s response to the suspected Chinese spy balloon that U.S. military fighter jets shot down Saturday.
China claimed the balloon, which had been seen flying over Montana earlier last week, was only meant for observing weather conditions. The Chinese Foreign Ministry claimed the move to destroy the balloon was a “clear overreaction and serious violation of international practice.”
Biden was briefed on the balloon Wednesday but it was not shot down until it was flying over water Saturday, in part, because of the potential damage caused by debris.
"The president will always put the safety and security of the American people first," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday. "We are tracking closely and keeping all options on the table."
Republicans criticized the administration for waiting so long to shoot it down.
“I will be demanding answers and will hold the admin accountable for this embarrassing display of weakness,” Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said.
Sen. Marco Rubio, lead Republican on the Intelligence Committee, similarly said it sent the wrong message to the rest of the world.
“The message embedded in this to the world is we can fly a balloon over airspace of the United States of America and they won’t be able to do anything about it to stop us,” Rubio said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also criticized the president.
McConnell said in a statement Sunday that "this balloon could have been shot down right away without endangering Americans or Canadians.”
“This was a reminder of the PRC's brazenness and President Biden missed the opportunity to defend our sovereignty, send a message of strength, and bolster deterrence," he added.
But Democrats defended the administration's actions.
“We sent a clear message to China that this is not acceptable. We protected civilians. We gained more intelligence while protecting our own sensitive information,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said. “The bottom line here is that shooting down the surveillance balloon over water wasn't just the safest option but it was the one that maximized our intelligence payload.”
A group of eight congressional leaders on intelligence committees will receive a classified briefing this week on China and the surveillance balloon.
Senators will receive a classified briefing on February 15 with the latest intelligence on the balloon as the United States searches for debris off the South Carolina coast.