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Tipsheet

Why Speaker McCarthy Is Demanding a Gang of Eight Briefing Right Now

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

The Chinese dispatched a spy balloon reportedly monitoring US military installations in the Western United States. It was spotted over Montana last night, and we didn’t shoot it down for some reason. It was a high-altitude device that was hovering at limits above that of commercial air travel. Initial reports said that there were concerns about falling debris. Shockingly, Joe Biden’s initial decision would have been accepted by almost everyone. It would have been a course of action that earned a genuine bipartisan consensus: he wanted to shoot it down. It was the Pentagon who advised against it. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is now demanding a ‘Gang of Eight’ briefing about the spy balloon and how it was able to float around the US for so long. Spy balloons from China aren’t new, but the length of this spy trip is what’s different (via Fox News): 

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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is asking for a Gang of Eight briefing after government officials said that a suspected Chinese spy balloon is hovering over the continental United States. 

"China’s brazen disregard for U.S. sovereignty is a destabilizing action that must be addressed, and President Biden cannot be silent. I am requesting a Gang of Eight briefing," McCarthy said.

The "Gang of Eight" comprises Republican and Democrat Congressional leaders, eight in total, from both the House and Senate, who are briefed on classified matters by the executive branch. 

[…] 

A senior defense official said that the U.S. government is "confident" that the surveillance balloon belongs to the People's Republic of China. 

The defense official said during the briefing that the balloon was over Montana, adding that officials were considering bringing the plane down with military assets, but decided against doing so because of the risks associated, adding that President Biden was briefed on the situation and asked for military options.

[…] 

The Chinese spy balloons discovery comes as the U.S. and Philippines reached an agreement to increase military presence on the islands amid escalating tensions between China and Taiwan.

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This incident did remind me of one thing: we have a secretary of state. Antony Blinken was set to visit China soon, the first secretary of state to do so in nearly six years. There’s been no news about whether that trip is canceled, but it should at least be postponed after this stunt (via WSJ): 

Two Air Force F-22 fighters scrambled from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada to Montana, where the balloon was observed, before the administration decided not to shoot it down. 

The U.S. maintains an arsenal of 150 nuclear-armed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. A senior defense official said the U.S. government was taking steps to shield sensitive sites, but added that the reconnaissance systems on the balloon were presumed to have “limited additive value” beyond what the Chinese could gather from their low-earth-orbit satellites. 

On Thursday, the State Department declined to say whether it would call off Mr. Blinken’s trip, part of an effort to revive a relationship strained by the countries’ geopolitical rivalry and exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The U.S. wants to use the short visit to address persisting disputes ranging from Taiwan to technology and, officials said, intends to stress the Biden administration’s interest in finding areas of potential cooperation.

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Russia sends fighter jets and bombers within inches of US airspace, and China penetrates our skies with spy balloons. Happy Friday, everyone.

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