Biden could deliver remarks this week addressing downed objects, sources say | CNN Politics


President Joe Biden could deliver remarks this week addressing the downing of the Chinese spy balloon and other unidentified high-altitude objects over North American airspace, two sources familiar with the matter said.

White House officials are actively weighing a potential address by the president, the source said. Officials had been wary of Biden speaking publicly about the objects until more information is gathered about the three unidentified objects that were downed last weekend. But calls on Capitol Hill for Biden to address the matter publicly have been mounting.

Federal officials have said the initial Chinese surveillance balloon downed off the coast of South Carolina was capable of conducting signals intelligence collection operations and had a payload around the size of three buses. By comparison, the subsequent objects, which haven’t been attributed to a specific country or entity, are believed to be much smaller. And the United States is now also increasingly confident that the three objects that were downed between Friday and Sunday were “benign” balloons.

Officials have also said they expect to release new protocols on how they will handle similar unidentified objects going forward later this week.

Administration officials from the Pentagon, State Department and intelligence community have briefed lawmakers on Capitol Hill on the initial Chinese spy balloon. Republicans on Capitol Hill have criticized Biden for not approving the military to down the first balloon quickly enough, letting it sail eastward for days.

But in the classified congressional briefings, administration officials argued that the US didn’t move earlier to shoot down the balloon in part over fears it could provoke an escalation of military tensions with China. Biden gave the order to shoot down the balloon whenever the Pentagon felt it was safe to do so, the sources said, so the Pentagon ultimately made the decision. The officials also told lawmakers the balloon was not first shot down when it entered Alaskan airspace because the waters there are cold and deep, making it less likely they could have recovered the balloon.

After being briefed last week, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said it was wrong for the Biden administration to wait to shoot down the initial balloon. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters this week that he thought the American people ought to hear from Biden soon about a number of “very serious threats,” including “balloons flying over our skies.”

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn similarly told reporters on Wednesday that he believes the administration needs to be more transparent about the objects shot down in order to stop rampant speculation.

“I don’t think they’re being transparent enough and I think that’s got to change,” Cornyn said. “It’s amazing what the human mind can imagine when confronted with the unknown, and I think people are conjuring up all sorts of imaginary and horrifying scenarios that a little transparency would dispel.”

The White House has attempted to dispel the suggestion that Biden’s decisions to quickly take down three high-altitude objects between Friday and Sunday were the result of political pressure.

“These were decisions based purely and simply on what was in the best interest of the American people,” National Security Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said on Monday.

Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin said Wednesday that the Pentagon is not aware of any additional unidentified objects appearing in US airspace since the last one was shot down on Sunday.

Two senators – Montana Democrat Jon Tester and Maine Republican Susan Collins – have introduced a resolution to condemn the Chinese government for its “brazen violation of United States sovereignty” through the use of the suspected spy balloon.

The resolution won’t carry the force of law but is intended to be a symbolic gesture to allow the Senate to speak with one voice. The House approved its own resolution to criticize China last week.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.



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