Updated Feb 5, 2023 - Politics & Policy

House GOP eyes China spy balloon investigations

Rep. Michael McCaul, wearing a blue pinstripe suit, white shirt and blue tie, stands in front of the Capitol.

Rep. Michael McCaul. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

House Republicans are indicating plans to investigate the Biden administration's response to a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that was shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday.

Why it matters: It fits into a broader array of planned probes by the new GOP House majority into the Biden administration's military and foreign policy, including the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2021.

Driving the news: “I will be demanding answers and will hold the admin accountable for this embarrassing display of weakness," Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said Saturday.

  • A committee spokesperson told Axios: "[I] think we're first looking for an in-depth briefing. Additional steps have yet to be determined."
  • Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), a freshman member of the panel, said in a statement that Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin "must cooperate with Congress and provide immediate answers."
  • Homeland Security Committee Chair Mark Green (R-Tenn.) said in a statement slamming the administration's response to the balloon that his panel "will continue demanding both action and answers from this administration."

What they're saying: Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), the chair of a newly created select committee on "strategic competition" between the U.S. and China, dinged the response to the balloon in a video first shared with Axios.

  • "Despite an $850 billion defense budget, the American people were literally looking out their windows and watching an adversary's unauthorized aircraft meandering above them without a care in the world," he said.
  • Gallagher went on to call the incident a "diplomatic humiliation" coming on the eve of Blinken's now-postponed visit to China.

The context: The Pentagon first announced the balloon's existence to the American public on Thursday, alleging it was being used to collect information on sensitive military sites. Chinese officials claim it was a civilian weather balloon.

  • U.S. officials were aware of the balloon when it entered American airspace on Jan. 28, according to Bloomberg.
  • Biden told reporters he ordered the Pentagon on Wednesday to shoot down the balloon "as soon as possible ... without doing damage to anybody on the ground. The best time to do that was when it got over water."

The other side: Top Democrats praised the administration's handling of the balloon.

  • "I commend President Biden’s leadership in taking down the Chinese balloon over water to ensure safety for all Americans," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in a statement.
  • Others mocked GOP rhetoric about the balloon as overwrought. "Great news for my Republican colleagues, they can stop panicking about a balloon now," Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) tweeted of the balloon being shot down.

What's next: The Biden administration will brief the Gang of Eight — the four party leaders in Congress, along with the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees — next week, according to a Schumer spokesperson.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional developments.

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