“‘The president taking it down over the Atlantic is sort of like tackling the quarterback after the game is over.’”
That was Republican Rep. Mike Turner, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, leading a chorus of critics accusing President Joe Biden of waiting too long to take down a suspected Chinese spy balloon that spent days flying over U.S. airspace.
The morning after Biden ordered a U.S. Air Force fighter to shoot down the balloon off the Carolina coast — which has left a roughly seven-mile-long debris field in the Atlantic — Republicans including Turner, Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio were making the rounds on the Sunday morning talk shows to criticize what they described as the administration’s “lack of urgency” over national security.
“This [balloon] should never have been allowed to enter the U.S., and it never should have been allowed to complete its mission,” Turner said on Meet the Press on Sunday. “I think this administration lacks urgency,” he added later.
Cruz made similar statements on Face the Nation on Sunday, saying Biden gave the Chinese “a full week…to conduct spying operations over the U.S., over sensitive military installations.”
The Texas Republican added that “this entire episode telegraphed weakness” to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
And both Turner and Cruz called the Biden administration out for not telling the American public about the suspected spy balloon until after media outlets had broken the story.
Florida Republican Rubio also suggested the message the Biden balloon response sent to the world was, “These guys [the U.S.] can’t even do anything about a balloon flying over U.S. airspace? How can you possibly count on them if something were to happen in the Indo-Pacific region? How are they gonna come to the aid of Taiwan?”
But as Democrat Sen. Cory Booker, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, noted while defending Biden later on Meet the Press, the Department of Defense also revealed that Chinese balloons briefly crossed over the continental U.S. at least three times during the Trump administration.
“We should remember this is now known to have happened under the Trump administration multiple times,” the New Jersey lawmaker said. “To create another standard for Biden is a bit hypocritical.”
The Department of Defense revealed in a statement Saturday that U.S. officials first detected the balloon and its payload on Jan. 28 when it entered U.S. airspace near the Aleutian Islands, before traveling over Alaska and Canada, and then re-entering U.S. airspace over Idaho.
Biden said Saturday that he had ordered U.S. officials to shoot down the suspected surveillance balloon earlier this week, and that national security leaders had decided the best time for the operation was once it was over water.
The DoD added that while the balloon was “an unacceptable violation of U.S. sovereignty,” it “did not pose a military or physical threat.” And yes, the report noted that Chinese balloons briefly transited the continental U.S. at least three times during the prior administration, as in under President Donald Trump’s watch.
That was something that appeared to catch Rubio off-guard toward the end of his interview.
This is another challenge facing Biden as he prepares to give his second State of the Union address on Tuesday, where he is also expected to discuss the debt-limit standoff, recession worries, and acts of violence at home and abroad.