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Spy balloon

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

“The president taking it down over the Atlantic is sort of like tackling the quarterback after the game is over," the Ohio Republican said in an exclusive interview on NBC News' "Meet the Press."
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Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, the chair of the Intelligence Committee, criticized the Biden administration Sunday over its timing in taking down the Chinese surveillance balloon off South Carolina.

“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 gave the Defense Department the order after he was briefed Wednesday. He said the Pentagon decided to take the balloon down "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.C.
An airplane flies below a large balloon Saturday as it drifts above the Kingstown, N.C., area.Brian Branch via AP

Turner accused the Biden administration of lacking a sense of “urgency” when it came to threats China poses to national security by “allowing China to do a similar act before, not responding and then clearly in this one, not seeing the urgency of what was unfolding.”

Turner, who did not go into detail about the previous act, 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 Foreign Relations Committee, later pushed back against Turner in an interview on “Meet the Press": "This is an administration from its very beginning, has been reaching out across the aisle and finding good ways to counter and check China's aggressions, China's espionage, but also to look at ways to strengthen ties with China that enable us to better 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 Pentagon said 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 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 at three airports in North and South Carolina on Saturday to support the Pentagon in its effort. Buttigieg said that the U.S. has “the most complicated national airspace in the world” and that the balloon 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.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement Saturday that China was using the balloon "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 it entered Canadian airspace Monday, a senior defense official said. It re-entered U.S. airspace on Tuesday in northern Idaho and was taken down Saturday above U.S. territorial waters off South Carolina.