President Biden said on Saturday that he had ordered the Pentagon earlier in the week to shoot down the Chinese surveillance balloon traveling over the U.S. “as soon as possible.”
“On Wednesday, when I was briefed on the balloon, I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down … as soon as possible,” Biden told reporters in Hagerstown, Md.
However, amid concerns about the potential dangers of downing the balloon over land, Biden said his national security officials decided that “the best time to do that was when it got over water.”
The U.S. shot down the surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday afternoon, after it spent several days traversing the U.S.
“They successfully took it down, and I want to compliment our aviators that did it,” Biden added.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also confirmed in a statement that the president had authorized the Pentagon on Wednesday to shoot down the balloon “as soon as the mission could be accomplished without undue risk to American lives under the balloon’s path.”
“In accordance with the President’s direction, the Department of Defense developed options to take down the balloon safely over our territorial waters, while closely monitoring its path and intelligence collection activities,” Austin wrote.
“Today’s deliberate and lawful action demonstrates that President Biden and his national security team will always put the safety and security of the American people first,” he added.
Republicans were quick to criticize Biden’s response to the Chinese surveillance balloon after U.S. defense officials confirmed its presence on Thursday, calling for the president to shoot down the balloon immediately and linking the issue to problems at the country’s southern border.
“Biden should shoot down the Chinese spy balloon immediately,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said on Thursday. “President Trump would have never tolerated this. President Trump would have never tolerated many things happening to America.”
“I am demanding answers from the Biden administration about the spy balloon that flew over our airspace,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said in a tweet, after sending an angry letter to the Pentagon on Thursday night. “The administration failed to protect our border and now has failed to protect our skies.”
However, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) commended Biden’s decision to take the balloon down over water on Saturday in order to “ensure safety for all Americans.”
“Now we can collect the equipment and analyze the technology used by the CCP,” he added in a tweet.
The Navy and Coast Guard are reportedly working to recover debris from the downed balloon, according to The Associated Press.