Washington – As what US officials call a huge surveillance balloon believed to be from China continued to hover over the continental United States, President Joe Biden faced mounting pressure on Friday to address the situation as Republicans said he needed to take stronger action against Beijing.
In his first opportunity to comment on Friday, after promoting the January jobs report, he instead told reporters he wouldn’t answer questions about anything but the economy.
And when he left the White House and Joint Base Andrews for Philadelphia to give a speech on infrastructure, Biden once again brushed off reporters’ shrill questions.
And while Biden has, for now, decided not to order military action, a US official said late Thursday that the US is monitoring the situation closely and is “keeping all options open.” It was left to Secretary of State Antony Blinken to take the lead on the matter Friday when he was speaking at the State Department.
He told his Chinese counterpart that morning, Blinken said, “In light of China’s unacceptable actions, I will be postponing my planned weekend travel to China.”
“We concluded that conditions were not conducive for a constructive visit at this time,” Blinken told reporters. “I have made it clear that the presence of the observation balloon in US airspace is a clear violation of US sovereignty and international law – that it is irresponsible and that the PRC’s decision to take this action on the eve of my planned visit is detrimental to the substantive discussions for which we were prepared.”
The comments come as a growing number of Republicans called on the administration to take more action. Pentagon officials confirmed in a briefing on Friday that the balloon was able to maneuver and change course.
Montana Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke, who served as Secretary of the Interior under former President Donald Trump, called for the balloon to be shot down, with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., saying Trump would have already done so. But government officials said they were concerned it could pose a danger to civilians below.
“We continue to evaluate and make appropriate decisions based on how we deal with what we perceive as a potential threat,” said the Pentagon’s press secretary, Brigadier General. Gen. Patrick Ryder. “The safety and security of the American people is paramount. At this time we assess he does not pose a physical threat to people on the ground.”
However, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, tweeted on Friday, “It was a mistake not to shoot down the Chinese spy balloon when it was over a sparsely populated area. This is not a hot air balloon, it has a large load of sensors.” Roughly the size of two city buses And the ability to maneuver independently.
Republican Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton tweeted to Biden to “stop coddling and appease the Chinese Communists.” He also asked if the blimp had been spotted over Alaska as questions swirled.
Republican Utah Sen. Mitt Romney added a warning against TikTok as well: “A big Chinese balloon in the sky and millions of Chinese TikTok balloons on our phones. Let’s shut them all down.”
Meanwhile, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy called for a briefing of senior members of the “Gang of Eight” in Congress. Such a meeting would bring together the top leaders of the House and Senate and the chairs of the intelligence committees in every room.
“China’s brazen disregard for US sovereignty is a destabilizing act that must be addressed, and President Biden cannot remain silent,” McCarthy wrote in a tweet.
The so-called “Gang of Eight” employees were given a classified briefing about the balloon by the administration Thursday afternoon, according to several congressional officials.
The criticism comes as newly empowered House Republicans formed the House Select Committee on China to investigate foreign power threats as the GOP argues the administration has not done enough on its own.
China’s foreign ministry said earlier on Friday that the balloon was civilian in nature and used for scientific research, “mainly in the field of meteorology”.
“The airship is from China,” the State Department said. “Influenced by Western aircraft and with limited self-guiding ability, the airship deviated far from its planned route. The Chinese side regrets the accidental entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure.”
“Force majeure” refers to something that is done outside of the government’s control.
ABC News’ Luis Martinez, Shannon Crawford, Gabe Ferris and Carson Yu contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2023 ABC News Internet Ventures.