Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) told CBS, “I think this entire episode telegraphed weakness to [President] Xi [Jinping] and the Chinese government.”
House Republicans are also reportedly considering passing a resolution criticizing President Biden’s actions in this episode on Tuesday, the day Biden delivers his annual State of the Union address. Resolutions are nonbinding, primarily symbolic statements, often delivering a message from one party to another. This resolution could pass the House, where Republicans have a slim majority. An email seeking comment from House Republicans was not immediately returned Sunday afternoon.
The balloon — whose equipment was about the size of three large buses, according to U.S. officials — was shot down Saturday, once it moved off the coast of South Carolina, ending its eight-day journey.
A senior defense official has said there have been four previous known Chinese balloon incursions over the continental United States: one early in the Biden administration and three during the Trump administration.
Rubio dismissed comparisons to previous episodes of Chinese aircraft illegally entering U.S. airspace. “What is unprecedented,” he told the network, “is a balloon flight that entered over Idaho, over Montana, all these sensitive military installations: air force bases, ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] fields, right across the middle of the country. That has never happened before.”
A device that “flew briefly over part of the U.S., or continental U.S., that’s one thing. But what we saw this week, it’s unprecedented.” He also called the response a “dereliction of duty.”
A U.S. defense official has said the balloon’s capabilities did not appear to be “over and above” those of Chinese satellites and other tools.
Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, noted the balloon was detected in late January and said that he wanted to know, among other things, “why didn’t they take action at that time?”
Democrats defended Biden’s handling of the matter, noting the balloon was brought down without injury to Americans.
“The president called for this to be dealt with in a way that balanced all of the different risks,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “That’s exactly what happened. The military did a terrific job.”
Buttigieg said precautions were taken to protect the safety of American life and property.
The Federal Aviation Administration grounded nearby flights and coordinated with the Pentagon, which sent an aircraft to take down the balloon, creating a debris field about seven miles wide, he said.
“Any time the military is considering an operation like that, they have to consider the safety of the American people,” said Buttigieg, who served seven years in the U.S. Navy Reserve before joining the administration.
Top Republicans said the balloon was an unprecedented test of American leadership amid a series of increasingly difficult economic and diplomatic debates between the two nations.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who said he is considering a presidential run in 2024, said on ABC’s “This Week” that the balloon was “China poking at us.”
“This is all about China testing the American resolve — whether it’s the TikTok, or the balloon or whatever the thing is going to be next month — they know that tensions are escalating and they want to see what kind of leadership we have,” he said.
On ABC’s “This Week,” Cruz drew attention another point of tension between the countries: the case of Texas businessman Mark Swidan, who has been held in China for more than a decade and was convicted of involvement in a drug-trafficking conspiracy. Cruz said U.S. officials have pushed for China to release Swidan from custody.
“They’ve sentenced him to death on charges for which they have little to no evidence,” said Cruz, who introduced a resolution recently calling for Swidan’s release. He also told the network that he had raised Swidan’s case with Secretary of State Antony Blinken before a planned trip to China, which was canceled in response to the balloon’s discovery.
Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, called the Biden administration’s decision to wait to shoot down the balloon “sort of like tackling the quarterback after the game is over.”
Turner said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the U.S. military should have shot down the balloon days earlier when it was over sparsely populated parts of Alaska. He accused the Biden administration of lacking sufficient urgency. And he called China’s decision to fly a balloon over the country “a crisis.”
“I believe that they were trying to gain information on how to defeat the command and control of our nuclear weapons systems and our missile defense systems,” Turner said.
Sen. Cory Booker (D.-N.J.), who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the balloon was just one example of how China is “not playing by the rules of the world order.” But, Booker said, Biden’s handling of the balloon situation was “very just and very defensible.”
Leaving the aircraft floating above parts of the U.S. may have given government officials time to learn what the Chinese may have been seeking, according to David Martin, a national security correspondent for CBS News.
Martin noted the U.S. photographed the aircraft before shooting it down. “I think you have to assume that the U.S. got some intelligence value out of it,” he said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” The U.S. “was essentially watching China watch us.”
And retired Adm. Mike Mullen, a former chair of Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on ABC’s “This Week,” that shooting down the balloon while it was over the continental U.S. posed potential risks to civilian life that was not warranted.
“It’s very clear to me that the intelligence value of this from the standpoint of what it was getting, was not worth the risk of killing an American on the ground,” Mullen said. He added, “I know that’s why we waited to this point to take it down.”
Mullen said while it is important to learn more about this episode, “More importantly, we need to make sure we can get this relationship moving in the right direction.”
Todd C. Frankel and Akilah Johnson contributed reporting.
*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.