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Schumer says all senators will receive a briefing on Chinese spy balloon

The Senate majority leader also said the so-called Gang of Eight is expected to be briefed as early as Tuesday.
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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday that all senators would receive a briefing on what comes next as the U.S. deals with the fallout from the Chinese surveillance balloon.

The briefing for all senators is scheduled to take place Thursday, according to a spokesperson for the New York Democrat. His office had initially said, on Sunday, that the meeting would take place Feb. 15, when a classified briefing for all senators focused on China had previously been scheduled.

In a news conference Sunday, Schumer said that senators would be briefed by the Defense Department’s Office of Net Assessment, which provides assessments of the military's future. Schumer, who received a special briefing on the situation earlier Sunday after the U.S. shot down the balloon off the Carolina coast, said senators could expect to hear the latest facts on the balloon and what foreign policy related to China might look like this month.

He also said that the so-called Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group of leaders who are given classified briefings, was expected to be briefed as early as Tuesday.

Schumer also beat back criticism from top congressional Republicans, who said the administration should have shot down the balloon sooner. Schumer praised the Biden administration for being “calm, calculating, effective” by taking down the balloon over water where it posed minimal risk to those on the ground.

“They are premature and they are politics,” Schumer said, adding that the move by the U.S. to down the balloon Saturday protected civilians as well as sensitive information.

Schumer said because the surveillance balloon was taken down above U.S. territorial waters, officials were in a position to recover most of debris. “We can learn a great deal about China’s capabilities and what they are up to,” he said.

House Republicans are in the early stages of taking up a resolution that would criticize President Joe Biden’s handling of the balloon, three Republican aides with direct knowledge told NBC News on Sunday.

The resolution, which is nonbinding, would put the House on record in addressing the “very serious” Chinese spy balloon situation, one source added.

It was unclear, however, how many House Republicans were on board with the potential measure. Two moderate Republicans told NBC News they would not support the resolution if it came up, with one saying the intent behind the resolution was “stupid,” given that even top lawmakers were awaiting a classified briefing from the administration and did not yet know the full picture.

The discussion of the resolution comes just days before the president is set to deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, criticized Biden for not communicating the balloon’s existence as soon as it began hovering over the U.S. last week.

“Presidents have the abilities to go before a camera, go before the nation and basically explain these things early on. And his failure to do so — I don’t understand that,” Rubio said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday. “I don’t understand why he wouldn’t do that. And that is the beginning of dereliction of duty and the second is you have to act swiftly on these things.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell similarly criticized the Biden administration for being “too late" to react.

“As usual when it comes to national defense and foreign policy, the Biden Administration reacted at first too indecisively and then too late. We should not have let the People’s Republic of China make a mockery of our airspace,” the Kentucky Republican said in a statement Sunday, his first reaction since the surveillance balloon was shot down.