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President Joe Biden on Feb. 4 said the United States is going to “take care of” the spy balloon that has been allowed to fly over the country.
“We’re going to take care of it,” Biden told reporters after Air Force One landed at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, New York.
Biden, who was with his son Hunter Biden, did not elaborate.
Biden has chosen thus far not to shoot down the Chinese balloon based on recommendations from U.S. military officials.
Biden received a “strong recommendation” from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chief of Staffs Chairman Mark Miller “not to take kinetic action because of the risk to safety and security of the people … on the ground,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told a press conference on Friday.
The president “took that recommendation from the military seriously—of his advisors, clearly,” she added. “The president will always put the safety of the security of the American people first.”
Asked how close the president was to ordering the balloon be shot down, Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters in a separate briefing: “Right now, we assess that there is no threat—a physical threat or military threat—to people on the ground. So we’re continuing to monitor and we’ll just leave it at that.”
A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that officials assessed the balloon is “large enough to cause damage from the debris field if we downed it over an area” and that officials didn’t feel “comfortable recommending shooting it down,” as of yet.
U.S. officials have declined to say whether they’ll shoot down the balloon if it leaves the United States. It is expected to reach water on Saturday, based on weather patterns.
The balloon has violated U.S. sovereignty, the White House and Pentagon have said. U.S. officials say they know the balloon is a surveillance craft, though China has claimed it is not.
Members of Congress and others have urged Biden to take action, questioning why the balloon has been allowed to remain in the air.
“China is able to keep a balloon traveling across our country because of this administration’s weak stance that garners no respect from the Chinese Communist Party,” Rep. Chuck Edwards (R-N.C.) said in a statement.
“It would be dereliction of duty for the Biden administration to allow this to leave U.S.-controlled airspace,” Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) said.
The balloon was over the Carolinas on Saturday.
The balloon was high in the sky, tracking at one point 20,000 meters (65,616 feet) above the ground.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts the balloon will reach the Atlantic Ocean over the weekend.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, a Biden appointee, told reporters in Washington on Friday that he was postponing his planned trip to China and had conveyed to a top Chinese communist official that the balloon traveling into U.S. airspace was an “unacceptable action.”
“I made clear that the presence of this surveillance balloon in U.S. airspace is a clear violation of U.S. sovereignty and international law, that it’s an irresponsible act, and that the PRC’s decision to take this action on the eve of my planned visit is detrimental to the substantive discussions that we were prepared to have,” he said. PRC stands for the People’s Republic of China.
Biden was in Syracuse to visit family following the passing of his brother-in-law, Michael Hunter.
Biden planned to travel to Maryland and spend the evening at Camp David after the visit.
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