House Intel chair Mike Turner criticizes Biden for lacking urgency in handling of Chinese spy balloon

  • In Politics
  • 2023-02-05 17:00:48Z
  • By NBC News

Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, on Sunday criticized the Biden administration over its timing in taking down the Chinese surveillance balloon off the Carolina coast.

"The president taking it down over the Atlantic is sort of like tackling the quarterback after the game is over," Turner said in an interview on NBC News' "Meet the Press." "This should never have been allowed to enter the United States and it never should have been allowed to complete its mission."

After the balloon was shot down Saturday, President Joe Biden told reporters that he made the order to the Pentagon after he was briefed Wednesday. The president said the Pentagon decided to take down the balloon "when it got over water" in order to avoid "doing damage to anyone on the ground."

An airplane flies below a large balloon as it drifts above the Kingstown, N.
An airplane flies below a large balloon as it drifts above the Kingstown, N.  

Turner accused the Biden administration of lacking a sense of "urgency" when it came to threats China poses to national security.

"Allowing China to do a similar act before and clearly in this one not seeing the urgency of what was unfolding," Turner said, without going into details on the previous act. He also said there was no attempt to notify Congress or the so-called Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group of leaders who are given classified briefings.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, later pushed back on Turner in an interview on "Meet the Press": "This is an administration that's been reaching out across the aisle to counter China aggression and espionage but also keep them at the table."

Booker decried what he called "another standard" for Biden as Republicans criticize the administration's handling of the incident.

"To create another standard for Biden when Trump, it seems, allowed this to go over the United States is just a bit hypocritical," Booker said. In a statement Saturday, the Department of Defense said that suspected surveillance balloons from China briefly transited the continental U.S. "at least three times" during the Trump administration, citing a senior defense official.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the administration's decision to take down the Chinese surveillance balloon is a "great example of coordination and cooperation between a lot of different players in our government to make sure everything happens safely."

The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily grounded flights in three airports in North and South Carolina on Saturday to support the Department of Defense in its effort. Buttigieg noted that the U.S. has "the most complicated national airspace in the world" and the balloon itself was "larger than a bus," with a debris field that stretched "about 7 miles" after it was shot down.

"And so the concern, of course, is how do you do it in a way that absolutely minimizes the danger to American lives on the ground and any kind of aviation operations?" Buttigieg said on "Meet the Press." "That's exactly what happened - FAA worked closely with the Pentagon. This thing was brought down in a safe manner, and flights are back to normal in the U.S."

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement Saturday that the surveillance balloon that was brought down above U.S. territorial waters was being used by the People's Republic of China "in an attempt to surveil strategic sites in the continental United States."

On Wednesday, Biden gave his authorization to take down the balloon "as soon as the mission could be accomplished without undue risk to American lives under the balloon's path," Austin said, adding that "after careful analysis, U.S. military commanders had determined downing the balloon while over land posed an undue risk to people across a wide area."

The balloon entered U.S. airspace on Jan. 28 north of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska before entering Canadian airspace on Monday, a senior defense official told NBC News. It re-entered U.S. airspace on Tuesday in northern Idaho, and was taken down Saturday above U.S. territorial waters off the coast of South Carolina.

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