UFO fever has gripped America.
Multiple senators briefed on the matter report that the threat level is low after U.S. fighter pilots shot down four flying objects. However, Republicans demand that President Joe Biden address the public on the matter, as they receive numerous inquiries.
Senator Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., urged the president to reassure the public that they are safe.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., defended the Biden administration’s cautious approach, citing the sensitive nature of some classified information.
Senators were in a classified briefing Tuesday morning, just two days after the fourth mystery object was shot down in an eight-day span. Lawmakers, who continue to pressure the Biden administration for more answers, heard from Gen. Glen VanHerck, Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims II and Melissa Dalton, assistant secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Hemispheric Affairs.
“We’re learning more about these objects and our ability to detect them hour by hour,” Schumer said. “And what I can say is that our defense and intelligence agencies are focused like a laser on first gathering the information, assessing the information and coming up with a comprehensive view to what is going on.”
Multiple senators and White House spokesman John Kirby confirmed Tuesday that officials haven’t been able to retrieve data from the last three objects that were shot down.
“Given what we’ve been able to ascertain thus far, the intelligence community is considering as a leading explanation that these could just be balloons tied to some commercial or benign purpose,” he said.
What Senators are saying about the spy balloons
Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley said they didn’t learn much in the briefing.
“I get the feeling they don’t really know what in the world if going on,” Hawley said.
Biden should be addressing the nation and “laying out what they know,” said Hawley, who expressed frustration that nobody from White House administration was in the briefing.
Schumer said some of his Republican colleagues are being “premature” and “very political” in their views.
Other Republicans, such as Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, had a measured tone on Tuesday.
Murkowski said she was “angry” last week about an incursion in American airspace, especially because her home state is the first line of defense to foreign adversaries China and Russia.
On Tuesday morning, she said she still has questions, but some may not be answered until data is retrieved.
“It’s pretty tough conditions up north right now, and they’re looking for a needle in a haystack – but it’s probably worse. It’s about 50 below up there right now,” she said of the temperature in Alaska and over the border in the Canadian Yukon.
When asked if he approved of the Biden administration’s decisions, Tillis said, “I think so” and expressed confidence that data retrieval from the spy balloon shot down over South Carolina would produce “very valuable information.”
“I think they’ve done a good job of getting our situational awareness to where it is today and we had no situational awareness a month ago,” he said after the briefing.
Cruz said the briefing provided “very few specific answers about what is happening.”
“We know there are multiple objects that were shot down,” he said. “There was not a whole lot of clarity or additional details provided beyond that.”
Cruz said he and the American people still have questions, and he urged Biden to address the nation and answer them.
Meanwhile, some Senate Democrats urged patience.
“I understand in a 24-hour news environment everybody wants the president to speak on everything immediately,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. ”Sometimes it’s smart for the president of the United States to get some more information before he makes a statement.”
Congress has called for swift action from Biden, including fellow Democrats saying they want transparency and consequences for spying. Biden, meanwhile, is threading a delicate balance of trying to show strong leadership and strong diplomacy with a foreign adversary.
Kirby said Monday the administration is being “as transparent as we can be.” He said Biden has directed his team to properly consult and brief members of Congress and state leaders. “We’re also doing what we can in the public sphere.”
How many spy balloons have been spotted and shot down?
At least one spy balloon and three unidentified flying objects have been detected and shot down:
- a suspected Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon was shot down six miles off the South Carolina coast on Feb. 4
- a flying object was shot down Friday near Deadhorse, Alaska
- another flying object was shot down Saturday in the Canadian Yukon
- a fourth flying object was shot down Sunday about 15 nautical miles off shore in Lake Huron
Why weren’t the spy balloons spotted sooner?
Senators – and House members – have questioned why suspected Chinese spy balloons were in U.S. air space during the Trump administration but weren’t spotted until the Biden administration was in office.
U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, also known as NORAD, did not identify at least four Chinese balloons that entered U.S. airspace through Florida, Hawaii and Texas.
VanHerck, the NORAD commander, said not detecting those threats is “a domain awareness gap that we have to figure out.”
Some Republican senators said Tuesday morning that gap is unacceptable.
“This has been going on for years,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. “We don’t really know what they are. We don’t even know if we’d caught all of them.”
Senators will get another classified briefing Wednesday afternoon on overall threats from China.
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