Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) criticized President Joe Biden during an interview on Sunday over his controversial handling of the Chinese spy balloon that flew over the U.S. during the last several days.
Rubio told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” that the American people need answers about why it took the administration so long to disclose the spy balloon’s presence over U.S. territory.
“I think what’s embedded here is a clear message. It’s not a coincidence that this happens leading up to the State of the Union address, leading up to [Secretary of State Antony] Blinken’s visit to China,” Rubio said. “The Chinese knew that this was going to be spotted. They knew that we were going to have to react to it. They flew it over military installations and sensitive sites across — right across the middle. I mean, look at the flight path of this thing. It’s a diagonal shot right through the middle of the continental United States.”
“And the message embedded in this to the world is, we can fly a balloon over airspace of the United States of America, and you won’t be able to do anything about it to stop us,” he added. “They calculated this carefully with a message embedded in it. And I think that’s the part we can’t forget here. It’s not just the balloon. It’s the message to try to send the world that America — we can do whatever we want, and America can’t stop us.”
TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I’m Jake Tapper.
Many Republicans reacted with outrage after President Biden waited for the suspected Chinese spy balloon to leave the continental United States before shooting it down, for safety reasons, they said, at the Pentagon’s guidance.
Joining us now is the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
So you have said the President Biden should have shot the balloon down earlier. The defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, said — quote — “After careful analysis, U.S. military commanders had determined to downing the balloon while over land posed an undue risk to people across a wide area due to the size and altitude of the balloon and its surveillance payload.”
And, as you heard Secretary Buttigieg just a few minutes ago said that the debris field after the balloon was shot down was about seven miles’ long.
Should President Biden have ordered that it be shot down anyway, regardless of that risk?
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): No, not regardless of the risk.
First of all, they can track these things. I would hope you can track a slow moving balloon that clearly is headed here, as you can see from its trajectory. I think that’s one of the things we will learn this week, is how soon, how late into January did they already know that there’s this high-altitude balloon and what its trajectory was and where it was headed, and why didn’t they take action at that time?
That’s number one. I think the other thing that we need to know about it and understand is, why did it take so long for them to disclose this to the American public? I don’t think the trajectory of where this balloon was going was a mystery. I think, pretty early on, they probably — because of the prevailing winds, because of the direction that it was headed, I think it was pretty clear that this thing was going to enter the Northwest in Montana, in Idaho, move its way down the Midwest and exit the Eastern Seaboard just off the Carolinas.
I mean, that’s an unprecedented flight path. And why did it wait until Wednesday to notify — or Thursday to talk about it the American people, knowing people were going to be seeing this thing?
TAPPER: As the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, do you know, has the U.S. recovered any parts of the Chinese spy balloon? Has the — and did the monitoring of the balloon during its journey, as far as you know, yield any worthwhile information for the U.S.?
RUBIO: Well, we won’t know that until we get to a secure setting this week in Washington. And, probably, most of that is something we won’t be able to disclose in any great detail, other than to say this.
And that is that they’re going to try to recover this. Apparently, it’s in shallow waters. We will see what they recover from it. But I don’t think the technology or the existence of these things is a great mystery. I think what’s embedded here is a clear message. It’s not a coincidence that this happens leading up to the State of the Union address, leading up to Blinken’s visit to China.
The Chinese knew that this was going to be spotted. They knew that we were going to have to react to it. They flew it over military installations and sensitive sites across — right across the middle. I mean, look at the flight path of this thing. It’s a diagonal shot right through the middle of the continental United States.
And the message embedded in this to the world is, we can fly a balloon over airspace of the United States of America, and you won’t be able to do anything about it to stop us. They calculated this carefully with a message embedded in it. And I think that’s the part we can’t forget here. It’s not just the balloon.It’s the message to try to send the world that America — we can do whatever we want, and America can’t stop us.
TAPPER: What information do you think the spy balloon might have gleaned as it traveled?
I know, it’s over — the fear is that it was over some U.S. military installations. I’m also wondering if infrastructure was probably part of the surveillance task at hand.
RUBIO: Well, again, it would be speculation, other than to tell you that those things usually at that altitude, and what they’re doing is probably trying to collect on signals, on electronic information that’s transiting that they can pick up on.
There are various other means that they can do that as well. And that’s why I go back to the whole point of the message. There are probably other ways that China could acquire whatever they acquired using this balloon. I may be wrong. There may be some unique attributes to it that I’m — that I’m not aware of yet, but we will learn more about this week.
But I think, more than anything else, beyond just the ability to collect information, it is the ability to send a clear message, and that is that we have the ability to do this, and America can’t do anything about it. If they’re not going to be able to stop a balloon from flying over U.S. airspace, how is America going to come to your aid if we invade Taiwan or take land from India or take islands from the Philippines and Japan? And I think the fact that they would do that leading up to State of
the Union, leading up to what was then Blinken’s scheduled visit, none of that is a coincidence. So, we need to understand clearly there was messaging behind this.
TAPPER: But you — so you think that — first of all, I guess there are two parts to a question I have following up on that.
One is, the Pentagon says that they know of the Chinese doing this at least four other times, previously once at the beginning of the Biden administration, three times during the Trump administration. It seems to be you’re saying — oh, you’re saying, no, that’s not true?
But, in any case, is the — what’s the difference?
RUBIO: No. No, what I’m saying — OK.
Well, the difference is this. Are we aware, have we seen the Chinese fly these balloons in the past? Yes. I think there’s even been Twitter pictures of it flying at one point off the coast of the U.S. down south somewhere. The existence of the balloons is not a mystery to people in that field.
What we have never seen, what is unprecedented, and whoever the source was at the Department of Defense would have to acknowledge this, what is unprecedented is a balloon flight that entered over Idaho and flew over Montana, over all these sensitive military installations, air force bases, ICBM fields, right across the middle of the country.
That has never happened before. That is unprecedented. That it flew briefly over some part of the U.S. or continental U.S., that’s one thing. But what we saw this week, it’s unprecedented. And that’s why everyone’s reacting the way they’re reacting. We have never seen this.
So, this is no comparison to anything that may have happened up to this point.
TAPPER: Your colleague and friend Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina accused President Biden of — quote — “dereliction of duty” by allowing the Chinese spy balloon to fly across the U.S.
That’s a pretty strong accusation. Do you agree with it?
RUBIO: Well, I think the dereliction of duty begins with this.
Why not, on Tuesday or Wednesday — you know people are going to see this. At some point, you’re going to have to disclose it. And they probably didn’t want to, because they didn’t want to have their hand forced on canceling this Blinken visit. And so they didn’t — so they didn’t want to have to talk about it.
But why didn’t the president go on television? He has the ability to convene the country in cameras, and basically explain what we’re dealing with here and why he’s made the decisions he’s making and what they intend to do. I don’t understand, once they went public with it, knowing the amount of interest this was going to generate, presidents have the ability to go before camera, go before the nation and basically explain these things early on.
And his failure to do so is — I don’t understand that. I don’t understand why he wouldn’t do that. And that is the beginning of dereliction of duty. And the second is, we have to act swiftly on these things. I think that’s part of the — one of the things the Chinese are trying to message.
And that is, the U.S. had to see this coming and decided they couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything about it early on, and now had to wait until this thing went across the middle of the country. And what are we going to do the next time this happens? Are we going to allow it to fly through here again, and shoot it down once it gets to the East Coast?
I mean, these are questions the White House needs to answer. And I don’t think these are partisan claims I’m making. I think there would be a broad agreement that we need to know moving forward what our policy is going to be with regards to this.
TAPPER: So, as you noted, Secretary Blinken did cancel his trip to China after it was disclosed that this balloon was flying over the U.S.
What additional consequences should there be for the Chinese government now?
RUBIO: Well, I think the first consequence has to be — we have to decide, what are we going to do the next time one of these things heads this way? Because I don’t think it’ll be the last time. I think you will see it again.
Beyond consequences, I’m not sure there should be a direct individual consequence. I think the broader relationship between the U.S. and China to anyone who has any doubts about it, now the bottom line is here. And that is, we are now — China has been for some time and will be the primary strategic adversary of the United States.
And we should be focused on it, because what they’re trying to do is create a world in which they are the most powerful nation, and the United States is a great power in decline. That is — that is what they believe to be the case. That is what they are working on.
And we have to determine whether we’re going to allow the world to head in that direction or not. And then there’s all sorts of things we need to do, from how we’re postured militarily in the Indo-Pacific, all the way to what kind of companies do we allow to operate in the United States and spy on us, because we have invited them in?
Because they’re in our infrastructure, in our telecommunications infrastructure, because they’re buying land, because they’re buying farmland, because — because they’re wiping out key industrial capabilities of this country. There’s all kinds of things that need to be discussed when it comes to China, because this is the issue of the 21st century. TAPPER: The Chinese government says, now that the U.S. has shut down that balloon, they reserve the right to use whatever means they want to deal with any similar situation.
There’s even talk in “The Global Times,” which is basically a Chinese mouthpiece, that shooting down what they say is a civilian balloon sets a dangerous precedent and they might shoot down U.S. civilian apparatuses.
What do you make of that? Are you — are you fearful at all of this escalating?
RUBIO: Listen, if we were to fly anything over China, they’re going to shoot it down. They’re going to shoot it down, and they’re going to hold up — and they’re going to take pictures of it, and they’re going to go bonkers about it.
So I don’t know what statement they’re making. You can’t — you can’t fly anything over China now anyway. I mean, if we were to do that, if we were to fly a balloon over China — if the Goodyear Blimp flew over China, they’d shoot it down. So, it’s a — it’s a — it’s what they do over there. It’s silly talk.
Bottom line is, I think that’s — that’s what — that’s what we should expect anyways.
TAPPER: All right, the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, thank you so much for joining us today.
Really appreciate it, sir.
RUBIO: Thank you.
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