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House unanimously passes resolution condemning China for use of spy balloon

Washington — The House approved a resolution Thursday formally condemning China for its use of a surveillance balloon over the United States, which was shot down by the military off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday.

The measure won unanimous support in a vote of 419 to 0, marking a rare moment of bipartisanship in the sharply divided House just days after President Biden was heckled by some Republicans during his State of the Union address Tuesday.

Introduced by GOP Rep. Mike McCaul of Texas, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the resolution criticized China for its "brazen violation of United States sovereignty" and denounces the Chinese Communist Party's efforts "to deceive the international community through false claims about its intelligence collection campaigns in violation of United States sovereignty."

The measure also calls for the Biden administration to continue providing information to Congress through "comprehensive" briefings of the situation, including a total accounting of all "known infiltrations" of the national airspace by China over the past few years.

"Let's stand together against this common enemy that we have," McCaul said ahead of the vote. "Our enemy is not each other. Our enemy are foreign enemy nations like China, Russia, Iran and North Korea — China being the largest foreign state adversary, the biggest threat, long-term to the national security interest of the United States."

House members received a briefing from the Biden administration about the balloon incursion, which the Pentagon said Wednesday is part of a "larger Chinese surveillance balloon program" that has operated for several years and over five continents. 

A senior State Department official said Thursday that the balloon carried equipment that was "clearly for intelligence surveillance," including "multiple antennas" that were "likely capable of collecting and geo-locating communications."

The balloon first entered U.S. airspace on Jan. 28 and flew over or near four military sites in Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and Missouri, officials have said. China insisted the airship was a weather balloon that veered off course, an assertion the State Department official rejected, given the equipment onboard. The House resolution accuses Beijing of attempting to "spread false claims about the nature and purpose" of the balloon.

Senior administration officials confirmed previous balloons have also flown over parts of Hawaii, Texas and Florida, and they were over the U.S. on at least three occasions during the Trump administration.

Republicans have been critical of the Biden administration's response to the balloon incursion, questioning why it waited several days to shoot it down and allowed the balloon to traverse the U.S.

McCaul said last week that the balloon "should have never been allowed to enter U.S. airspace" posed a threat to national security.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Saturday that President Biden issued the order to down the balloon last Wednesday. The president, though, was advised that it was risky to shoot down the balloon over land, where falling debris could pose a threat to those on the ground, according to U.S. officials.

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters after the classified House briefing that after learning more about the nature of the risk, the Biden administration made the "right calculation" in waiting to shoot down the balloon.

"I think downing the craft sends a powerful message to China that we won't tolerate invasions of our airspace," he said.

The Pentagon on Monday said the balloon was up to 200 feet tall, bigger than the Statue of Liberty. It was carrying a payload the size of a jetliner, Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command, said Monday, and the sweeping debris field is "more than 15 football fields by 15 football fields."

In an interview with CBS News on Monday, Austin said the Navy recovered most of the balloon, and the military will go through "detailed efforts" to recover the debris on the ocean floor.

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