WASHINGTON — Some Senate Democrats said Wednesday that the American people deserve to hear more about the unidentified aerial objects that were shot down over North America this month, but they stopped short of calling on President Joe Biden to deliver a presidential address on the matter.
They made the calls after senators received classified briefings about the objects and on China more broadly over the past two days.
“The American people should be given more information — they can handle it, and they need and deserve to know,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said after the classified all-senators briefing about China on Wednesday. “Whether it’s the president personally — he can’t go on national TV every evening. But Congress has an obligation, as well, to inform.”
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who as chairman of the Appropriations defense subcommittee is investigating the U.S. response to Chinese spy balloons, said that Biden should speak to the American people “at some point” but that it’s the president’s call.
“I think he’s probably weighing that. He probably wants to get as much information as he can before he steps in front of the mic would be my guess,” Tester said in an interview after the China briefing.
“I think he should address people at some point.”
NBC News reported Wednesday night that Biden is planning to deliver his most extended public remarks yet — as early as Thursday — on the unidentified objects. The president will use his address to explain how he has tasked his administration with setting parameters on how to deal with aerial balloons and other objects spotted in the future.
White House officials had been privately discussing whether to have Biden address an issue that has dominated headlines, fueled speculation and caused concern among some Americans.
Asked earlier Wednesday whether Biden should make an address about the aerial phenomenon similar to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s, Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., replied, “More information is always better.”
Democrats appear to be giving Biden more space as his administration continues to recover wreckage from the Chinese surveillance balloon that was downed off South Carolina on Feb. 4 and searches for debris from three unidentified objects downed in the skies over Alaska, Canada and Michigan’s Lake Huron.
“I think the White House, Defense Department have handled this situation very well. I think that they’ve exercised good judgement that addressed our security concerns, our safety concerns, our intelligence gathering,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said after a separate classified briefing about the balloon and other aerial objects Tuesday.
“I think a lot of folks, really mostly Republicans, have been using this to whip up unnecessary hysteria. … Statements like ‘This is President Xi testing Biden for weakness’ — I mean, that’s just BS.”
Other top administration officials have been speaking to the public about the mysterious objects. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby has been providing regular briefings from the White House podium. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also briefed reporters Tuesday.
"We don't know ... how frequently these things may or may not have appeared in our air space. We’re learning a lot more about that," Austin said in an interview Wednesday with NBC News.
"We typically are focused on things that are moving fast. And so it's a bit more difficult to collect on slow-moving objects like a balloon."
Defense Secretary Austin speaks out about shot down unidentified objectsFeb. 16, 202301:58
But Republicans say they want to hear from the commander-in-chief himself.
"President Biden owes the American people an explanation," Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said Tuesday.
“On the one hand, the administration is saying we don’t yet know what these last three objects are and we don’t want to characterize until we recover them. But on the other hand, it wasn’t a threat,” he said. “Both of those things can’t be true.”
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., echoed calls for Biden to address the nation.
“The president, I think I can say, was not engaged on this Chinese spy balloon in time to make a decision to take it down over Alaska when he could have done so,” Hawley said. “I don’t know who’s actually making decisions with the White House. I can say with regard to the Chinese spy balloon, it sure as heck wasn’t the president.”
Biden "should be laying out what they know,” he added. “But I don’t know if he’s tracking. I don’t know who’s actually in charge."