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White House discussing whether to have Biden address unidentified objects

Biden’s public comments have been sparse as the U.S. works to recover wreckage of the Chinese spy balloon and three unidentified objects shot down this month.

WASHINGTON — The White House has been discussing privately whether to have President Joe Biden directly address an issue that has riveted much of the nation: what to do about unmanned and unidentified aerial objects spotted over U.S. territory, three people familiar with the matter said.

Biden’s comments have been sparing as the administration works to recover wreckage from the downing of a Chinese spy balloon off South Carolina on Feb. 4, as well as debris from the three still-unidentified objects shot down in the days that followed.

Lawmakers have grown increasingly critical of his reticence as the mystery around the objects has deepened. There are no plans as yet for Biden to deliver a national address, as past presidents have done in moments of national disquiet and apprehension.

Joe Biden on the South Lawn of the White House
Joe Biden on the South Lawn of the White House, on Feb. 9, 2023.Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

Reporters have been pressing Biden for answers about the unusual specter of U.S. fighter jets’ destroying unidentified objects floating overhead. An opportune moment for Biden to make a fuller statement about the shootdowns could come by the end of the week, when the government is expected to announce the development of new protocols to deal with unidentified aircraft like the ones destroyed in the past week.

The goal of the governmental review, which the White House announced Monday, is to bring military and civilian stakeholders together to determine what the proliferation of airborne objects means for national security interests and the safety of air travel and to develop protocols to deal with future unidentified aircraft.

The White House plans to give Congress a classified briefing about new standards that will be used when such objects are confronted in U.S. skies, a person familiar with the matter said.

A White House official said that there are “active conversations” about the right moment for Biden to address it publicly — and that the consensus among his team has been to wait for more information.

Asked whether Biden may speak out, Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said at a briefing Tuesday: “I don’t have anything to read out on the president speaking to this. What I can tell you is the president takes this very seriously.”

Delivering a presidential address before the White House has a full command of the facts poses clear risks. One would be needlessly alarming the public; the other would be leaving it with a false sense of security. John Kirby, a National Security Council spokesman, said at a news briefing Tuesday that intelligence officials are considering that, apart from the Chinese spy balloon, the objects downed in recent days were tied to research or commercial purposes and therefore were “benign.”

Kirby also cautioned that investigators are still searching for debris.

A view held by Biden’s advisers is that putting him out front to deliver incomplete information would only feed perceptions that the objects amount to a bigger problem than administration officials believe.

“Not everything is a five-alarm fire,” a White House official said.

Still, Congress is getting impatient. After he and other senators got a classified briefing Tuesday about the aerial objects, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told reporters: “I have a better understanding, but the American people deserve and need to know more. I am not in any way afraid that we are under a threat of attack or physical harm to our homeland. That’s my personal feeling. But the American people need to be reassured with more facts.”