Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas commended President Biden on Sunday for ordering the destruction of a suspectedover the Atlantic Ocean but faulted him for waiting several days to take action, saying the president's handling of the incident "projected weakness" to Beijing.
Fighter jets shot the balloon out of the sky off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday on the president's orders, one week after it was first detected over Alaska, U.S. officials said.
Appearing on "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Cruz suggested that swifter and more decisive action would have sent a stronger message to Chinese President Xi Jinping and the People's Republic of China.
"Well, listen, I want to start by doing something that I don't do very often, which is commending Joe Biden for actually having the guts to shoot this down," the Texas senator said. "That was the right thing to do. That is absolutely what the president should have done. Unfortunately, he didn't do that until a week after it entered U.S. airspace."
The president "allowed a full week for the Chinese to conduct spying operations over the United States, over sensitive military installations, exposing not just photographs but the potential of intercepted communications."
The senator added that, "more broadly, I think this entire episode telegraphed weakness to Xi and the Chinese government."
"To illustrate why, I would just ask one hypothetical question: imagine how this would have played out if nobody had taken any pictures of the balloon, if nobody in Montana had looked up and noticed this giant balloon, if it wasn't in the news," Cruz said. "We know that when the Biden administration knew about the balloon, they said nothing, they did nothing, they didn't shoot it down. And at the end of the day, I think the only reason they shot it down is because it made it into the news and they felt forced to as a matter of politics rather than national security. That's a bad message for the Chinese government to hear."
Senior administration officials said Saturday that the military "took immediate steps to protect against the balloon's collection of sensitive information" once it was detected to "mitigat[e] any intelligence value to" China.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement Saturday that Mr. Biden had authorized military personnel last Wednesday "to take down the surveillance balloon as soon as the mission could be accomplished without undue risk to American lives under the balloon's path." Defense officials said the suspected surveillance equipment attached to the balloon was about the size of two or three school buses.
Officials initially advised against shooting down the balloon as it traveled over the middle of the U.S., because of the risks that debris could harm communities on the ground. An F-22 dispatched from Langley Air Force Base ultimately shot down the balloon using a single air-to-air missile Saturday afternoon, according to a senior defense official.
Photos of the balloonas they began to emerge online last week, when the mysterious high-altitude object was first spotted in the skies above Billings, Montana, on Wednesday. The successful takedown on Saturday brought an end to one chapter in a tense dispute with China over the intrusion into U.S. airspace.
Beijing pushed back against U.S. accusations about the balloon, saying the balloon was meant to observe weather conditions and inadvertently entered U.S. airspace. U.S. officials have refuted that claim.
In a statement on Sunday, the Chinese foreign ministry called the decision to shoot down the balloon near South Carolina "a clear overreaction and a serious violation of international practice."
"China will resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the company concerned, and reserves the right to make further responses if necessary," the foreign ministry said.
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