Pressure mounts on Biden to address the nation after latest downing of aerial objects

Key Points
  • President Joe Biden is under mounting pressure to publicly explain why he ordered three floating objects to be shot down last weekend by American fighter jets.
  • "The president of the United States needs to get in front of the American public tonight and explain to them what we know," said Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan.
  • The White House says initial signs do not point to the three craft shot down over the weekend as being part of a Chinese spying program.
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) speaks to reporters during a break from a Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations joint briefing on the U.S. policy on Afghanistan, on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 2, 2022.
Al Drago | Reuters

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is coming under mounting pressure from both Democratic and Republicans senators to publicly explain why he ordered three floating objects to be shot down last weekend by American fighter jets.

The orders to shoot down the three "unidentified aerial phenomena" over three days came just one week after a massive Chinese surveillance balloon was shot down Feb. 4, after floating across the United States for eight days.

The first of the objects shot down this weekend was the size of a small car and floating at 40,000 feet when it was taken down over the Arctic Ocean on Friday. The second one was similar in size and altitude, but it was shot down over the Canadian Yukon on Saturday. The third floating object was slightly smaller and floating at just 20,000 feet when it was taken out over Lake Huron on Sunday.

On Tuesday, the White House said it had recovered key surveillance technology from the Chinese balloon, but it had yet to recover any of the debris left by the three smaller objects.

Without any physical evidence, it was impossible to know for certain if they were connected to the spy balloon, John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told reporters Tuesday.

"A range of entities — including countries, companies, research and academic organizations — operate objects at these altitudes for purposes that are not nefarious at all, including scientific research," said Kirby. But no country or university has claimed any of the downed objects as its own.

"We don't see anything that points, right now, to [the three smaller craft] being part of [the Chinese government's] spying program, or, in fact, to intelligence collection against the United States of any kind," Kirby said at the White House.

Defense Department and intelligence officials gave senators more information Tuesday during a classified briefing on the balloons on Capitol Hill.

Attendees emerged from the briefing reassured, not alarmed, they told reporters after the briefing. Their chief complaint was that the public has not been given the benefit of the same information they had.

"The president of the United States needs to get in front of the American public tonight and explain to them what we know," Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., said, adding he was worried the White House was using the balloons as "fear-mongering."

Senators were limited in what they could say, because their briefing was classified, said Marshall.

"But the president can get in front of America and tell them firsthand that we're safe, that everybody's going to be OK," he said.

Sailors assigned to Assault Craft Unit 4 prepare material recovered in the Atlantic Ocean from a high-altitude balloon brought down over U.S. territorial waters on February 4 for transport to federal agents at Joint Expeditionary Base-Little Creek in Virginia Beach, Virginia, February 10, 2023.
Ryan Seelbach | US Navy Photo | via Reuters

"There was a lot of information presented to us this morning that could be told to the American people without any harm to sources or methods or our national security," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told reporters in the Capitol.

"The American people need to know more," he said.

In the meantime, the public should be reassured by the fact that these three objects were shot down, said Homeland Security Committee Chairman Gary Peters, D-Mich.

"The fact that these these objects were detected and were acted upon should give people confidence that we're seeing them and taking what they believe is appropriate action," he said.

"But we still need to find out exactly what they were."

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, of Arkansas, criticized what he said was a conflicting message coming out of the White House.

"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 them until we recover them,'" said Cotton. "But on the other hand, 'it wasn't a threat.' Both of those things can't be true."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters that as more information becomes available, more can be shared with the public.

"We know that our defense and intelligence departments are analyzing every piece of this, and they're gaining more knowledge all the time," the New York Democrat said following a caucus lunch in the Capitol.

"There's quite a bit of information out there and there'll be more to come," he said.