Sen. Marco Rubio, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Sunday that China intentionally flew a spy balloon over the United States to send the message that America is in “decline.”
“They did this on purpose. They understood that it was going to be spotted, they knew the US government would have to reveal it, that people were going to see it over the sky. And the message they were trying to send is what they believe internally, and that is that the United States is a once-great superpower that’s hollowed out, it’s in decline,” the Florida pol said on ABC News’ “This Week.”
Rubio rejected China’s excuse that the balloon was a “civilian aircraft” which had flown off course, adding that the Biden administration’s decision to initially keep quiet about the object after it entered US airspace and not shoot it down until it was off the East Coast played right into China’s intentions.
“The message [China] is trying to send the world is, ‘Look, these guys can’t even do anything about a balloon flying over US airspace,’ ” Rubio told host Jonathan Karl.
“How can you possibly count on [the Democratic White House] if something were to happen in the Indo-Pacific region? How can you count on them if they’re not going to do anything about a balloon over US airspace? How are they going to come to the aid of Taiwan or stand with the Philippines or Japan or India when the Chinese move on their territory?’” he asked.
Two US Air Force fighter jets downed the balloon Saturday afternoon off the South Carolina coast, after it had already sailed at around 60,000 feet across the country and flew over a number of military installations since being first spotted near the Aleutian Islands in Alaska on Jan. 28.
Rubio said he wants to hear an explanation from the Biden administration on why the balloon wasn’t knocked out of the sky sooner.
“I’d love to hear from military officials about why wasn’t it addressed earlier,” Rubio said. “What were the options at that point? Maybe in a closed session, or maybe with the benefit of hindsight, they’ll have some real good arguments about why it couldn’t be done.”
Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, also blasted the White house for what he called a lack of “urgency” in dealing with the Chinese balloon, telling NBC News’ “Meet the Press” on Sunday that it should have been brought down immediately when it entered US airspace in Alaska.
Turner said the path of the balloon took it over major US missile defense and nuclear weapons facilities and he believes that the Chinese were trying to gain information on “how to defeat the command and control” of America’s most sensitive military systems.
“That’s a crisis that certainly should have had an urgency to the president and not just wait until this gets to the Atlantic to take it down,” he said.
President Biden said Saturday that he gave the order to shoot down the balloon, which was described as being as big as three buses, on Wednesday when media reports revealed people had seen it in the sky over Montana but was advised by the Pentagon to wait until it was over water to protect people on the ground.
Turner said, “There are no excuses here.
“They knew what this was. They know what the balloon is, what its capabilities, maneuverability is from having observed previous actions by China,” Turner said.
“They should have been prepared. They seem not only to be unprepared but to even be waiting: ‘Where is the balloon going to go? What are they trying to do?’ But that’s not how you look at the actions of an adversary,” he said.
A senior Defense Department official told reporters in a briefing Saturday that the military collected intelligence on the balloon and assessed that it had no more capability to gather information than China could already obtain from satellites.
As the US waited for the object to get over the Atlantic, “we also took immediate steps to protect against the balloon’s collection of sensitive information, mitigating its intelligence value to the PRC,” the official said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
“Shooting the balloon down addressed the surveillance threat posed to military installations and further neutralized any intelligence value it could have produced, preventing it from returning to the PRC,” the official said.
“In addition, shooting the balloon down could enable the US to recover sensitive PRC equipment,” the official continued.
But Turner said Sunday, “Clearly, the president taking it down over the Atlantic is sort of like the quarterback, sort of like tackling the quarterback after the game is over.
“The satellite had completed its mission,” he said.