Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is calling for the Senate Homeland Security Committee to investigate what he says is the Biden administration’s “baffling response” to a Chinese surveillance balloon that floated over U.S. missile installations in Montana, triggering alarms at the Pentagon.
“We have an obligation to obtain a full understanding of the surveillance that the Chinese government is currently conducting” and the Biden administration’s “baffling response thus far,” Hawley said.
Hawley said the Biden administration needs to explain why it merely monitored the suspected spy balloon instead of shooting it down, calling its intrusion into American airspace “a gross violation of American sovereignty.”
“China’s foray into America’s sovereign airspace is deeply disturbing and calls for an immediate investigation,” Hawley wrote in a Feb. 3 letter to Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.).
“This is a matter of homeland security, and we should hear from senior members of the Biden administration to understand their response, or lack thereof, so far,” he said.
The Pentagon said it would not shoot down the balloon because of the danger falling debris could pose to people on the ground.
Hawley also rejected the claim by the Chinese foreign ministry that the balloon is a “civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological purposes” and that it was blown off course by weather.
“We know that is a lie,” he wrote to Peters. “The Pentagon has confirmed that the balloon is ‘maneuverable’ and is currently somewhere over the center of the continental United States — in violation of U.S. airspace and international law.”
The balloon’s flight near intercontinental ballistic missile silos in Montana has prompted speculation that it was sent purposely by the Chinese military or intelligence services to send a message that those sites are potential targets in a future conflict.
A senior defense official told reporters earlier this week that Biden was briefed on the balloon and asked military leaders to review possible responses to the incursion.
Pentagon spokesman, Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said the balloon was expected to float through U.S. airspace for a few days.
“Yet rather than shooting down or otherwise disabling this high-altitude balloon, the Biden administration is merely ‘monitoring the situation’ and referring reporters to the Chinese government for answers,” Hawley wrote.
He said the Senate needs to review the matter because “the American people are demanding answers.”
Republicans spent much of Friday castigating Biden for his response to the balloon. Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) earlier in the day called for a briefing for the Gang of Eight, the top members of Congress who receive classified intelligence.