The Biden administration claimed victory over the weekend after shooting down a Chinese surveillance balloon that spend a few days in U.S. airspace, but Republican lawmakers made it clear they thought there was nothing successful about how the U.S. handled the situation and said the episode raises several questions about how to protect U.S. national security.
While Congress will be asking the Biden administration a myriad of questions as it investigates the incident and U.S. officials’ response to it, here are five that are among the most pressing for lawmakers this week:
Why did Biden wait so long?
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the shooting down of the balloon on Saturday shows the Biden administration will “always put the safety and security of the American people first while responding effectively to the PRC’s unacceptable violation of our sovereignty.”
But that left Republicans asking: if American national security is so important, why didn’t Biden order the shootdown before it entered U.S. airspace over Alaska?
CHINESE SPY BALLOONS OVER US DURING TRUMP ADMIN ‘DISCOVERED AFTER’ HE LEFT OFFICE: SENIOR BIDEN OFFICIAL
President Biden is under pressure from GOP lawmakers to answer several burning questions about the Chinese spy balloon. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
“Allowing a spy balloon from the Communist Party of China to travel across the entire continental United States before contesting its presence is a disastrous projection of weakness by the White House,” said Senate Armed Services Ranking Member Roger Wicker, R-Miss. “It is clear that standard protocol for defense of U.S. airspace was ignored.”
“The administration should have taken care of this before it became a national security threat,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, told Fox News Digital. “I hope we will be able to recover the wreckage to help determine what intelligence the CCP collected while its spy balloon was over our country for days.”
Was Biden worried about national security, or bad press?
Some say there are signs that Biden only decided to shoot down the balloon after its presence in U.S. airspace became widely known in the public and want to know whether Biden was content to let it float over the U.S. at 60,000 feet if it never became public knowledge.
“Glad we finally knocked Communist China’s spy balloon out of the sky,” Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, tweeted on Sunday. “Now, @JoeBiden needs to explain why he tried to hide Chinese espionage from Congress and the American people. What else is he not telling us?”
US INTEL ASSESSES CHINESE SPY BALLOONS TRANSITED US SEVERAL TIMES, WENT ‘UNDETECTED’: SENIOR ADMIN OFFICIAL
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said the Biden administration waited far too long before acting. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
“If press reports are correct, the Biden Administration hoped to hide this incident from the American people from the start,” Wicker said. “The White House owes Congress and the American people answers about this failure, and I intend to get those answers without delay.”
Why wasn’t Congress informed?
Several Republicans were bristling over the failure of the administration to keep lawmakers in the loop.
“The Committee on Homeland Security of the U.S. Congress — a co-equal branch of government — should not be finding out about a CCP spy balloon over Montana in the news,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mark Green, R-Tenn., told Fox News Digital.
On Monday, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., another member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, complained that the Biden administration and congressional Democrats aren’t in any particular hurry to bring lawmakers up to date. He was reacting to an announcement from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that key lawmakers would be briefed next week, on Feb. 15.
REP. MIKE ROGERS OFFERS SUCCINCT GOP ASSESSMENT OF CHINESE SPY FLIGHT
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said Congress needs a more urgent briefing on the matter. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images) (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
“The president lets a Chinese spy balloon merrily float across America’s heartland and @SenSchumer’s response is a previously scheduled generic briefing on China nine days from now? Not serious.”
Was the balloon able to send data back to China?
The Pentagon said that while it waited a few days in order to down the balloon safely, it also acted “immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information.”
But some with experience in the field said it’s doubtful the U.S. was able to stop the balloon from collecting and transmitting data while it was still afloat.
“With all due respect to the Pentagon I think that’s B.S. — they’re saying that to protect their ego and image,” Brandon Weichert, author of Winning Space, told Fox News Digital. “This was a long-ranged surveillance mission prompted partly by comments from the Pentagon about the possibility of going to war.”
Rebekah Koffler, a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer specializing in foreign aerospace, said there is a “high probability that the Chinese government exfiltrated sensitive U.S. data” through its spy balloon.
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Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said the Biden administration needs to worry about Chinese drones, not just Chinese balloons. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images) (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
“These insights are very useful for China in developing deterrence strategies for dissuading the United States from intervening in China’s future aggressive operations against Taiwan,” she said.
What is Biden doing about other Chinese surveillance threats?
Sen. Rick Scott said Sunday that China’s balloon is just one surveillance tactic, and that the U.S. needs to stop buying drones from China.
“This surveillance balloon is concerning, but it’s just the start of it,” Scott tweeted Sunday. “For years, the United States has purchased drones manufactured in Communist China with YOUR tax dollars, allowing one of our biggest adversaries into the most sensitive areas of our government. It MUST END.”
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Former Secretary of State Michael Pompeo added that the U.S. government needs to eliminate the Chinese app TikTok, which is also collecting data on U.S. citizens.
“The CCP uses TikTok as a tool of influence and propaganda inside the United States; instead of banning it, as we attempted to do in the Trump administration, Biden invites TikTok “influencers” to the White House,” Pompeo wrote Monday in a Fox News Digital op-ed.
Fox News Digital’s Kelly Laco and Patrick Hauf contributed to this report.
Pete Kasperowicz is a politics editor at Fox News Digital.