WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans urged President Joe Biden Tuesday to address the nation about a recent surge of flying objects shot down by the U.S. military.
The military downed three flying objects over Alaska, Canada and Michigan this weekend using missiles launched from fighter jets. The occurrences came one week after the Air Force downed a Chinese surveillance balloon over the Pacific Ocean on Feb. 11 after it spent several days traversing U.S. airspace.
“I’m not saying he has to go to the Oval Office,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said following a Tuesday morning full-Senate briefing on the objects. “He can go to the press room. He can do a press huddle on the South Lawn of the White House, but he needs to speak directly to the American people to answer their concerns and their interest in this matter.”
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who characterized the White House’s response to the incidents as “a mess,” expressed a similar sentiment.
“It would at least show me that the president maybe is aware of what’s going on and is lucid,” Hawley said of a potential address from Biden.
The briefing, which included officials from the Department of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, comes on the heels of another full-Senate classified briefing last Thursday on the initial balloon from China.
Biden, who said he directed the military to shoot down the balloon as soon as it was safe to do so, drew harsh criticism from Republican lawmakers for not taking action earlier. China called the military’s decision an “overreaction” to what they maintain was a weather balloon gone astray, even as the Pentagon says it is confident the balloon had technology to collect electronic communications.
The military has collected some debris from the initial balloon, but has yet to successfully recover the other three objects.
While senators were able to share little about the specific content of the briefing due to its classified nature, several senators present implied that little is still known about the origins of the objects.
The Pentagon has said that it has not ruled out any possibilities, but the White House said Monday there is “no indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity.”
Biden has asked National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan to lead an interagency effort to study “the broader policy implications for detection, analysis, and disposition of unidentified aerial objects that pose either safety or security risks,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said yesterday at a briefing. Biden, however, has yet to directly address the incidents publicly.
Asked at yesterday’s briefing if the public should hear from the president on the recent occurrences, Jean-Pierre declined to comment on Biden’s personal speaking schedule but emphasized his focus on the issue.
“He has been deeply engaged in every one of these decisions,” Jean-Pierre said. ”He has been kept informed, including as of this morning, on what’s going on with recovery efforts. And he’s very much staying on top of the issue and directing his team to make sure we are properly consulting and briefing not just members of Congress, but state leaders as well.”
National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby, who joined Jean-Pierre at the briefing, said it was possible that enhanced radar capabilities and increased scrutiny of U.S. airspace “may at least partly explain the increase in the objects that have been detected.”
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) stopped short of calling for an address from the president but still said the public deserves answers from the Biden administration.
“I think, at a minimum, our Director of National Intelligence should go in front of the American people and explain what we know (and) what we don’t know without divulging any classified information,” he said.