Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) slammed President Joe Biden Sunday for his botched handling of the Chinese spy balloon that crossed over multiple U.S. states last week.
Cotton made the remarks on “Fox News Sunday” with host Shannon Bream when asked to weigh in on the matter.
“What began as a spy balloon has become a trial balloon, testing President Biden’s strength and resolve. And unfortunately, the president failed that test. And that’s dangerous for the American people. The president was paralyzed for entire week by a balloon,” Cotton said. “We should have shot this balloon down over the Aleutian Islands. We should have never allowed it to transit the entire continental United States. And I think there’s a lot of open questions that the administration needs to answer to Congress on behalf of the American people about why they didn’t.”
Cotton said that part of why Biden did not want to shoot down the spy balloon is because he did want to take any “provocative or confrontational” actions against “the Chinese communists.”
Cotton said that Biden likely would have taken no action on the spy balloon had residents in Montana not taken pictures of it and posted the pictures on social media.
Cotton added that “Democratic presidents only take action like shooting down this balloon once their hand is forced. And I think on Thursday, when civilians in Montana identified this balloon, it — well, it forced the president’s hand.”
The Biden administration should never have let the Chinese spy balloon traverse the entire U.S. The Chinese communists tested Joe Biden, and he failed. pic.twitter.com/F5fiY5imY7
— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) February 5, 2023
SHANNON BREAM, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Joining me now, Senator Tom Cotton, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, also the author of “Only the Strong”.
Senator, welcome back to “FOX News Sunday”.
SEN. TOM COTTON (R-AR): Thank you, Shannon. It’s good to be back with you.
BREAM: OK. So, you’re in the Senate Intel Committee, maybe you can help us out a little more with this time line.
General Keane, familiar to our viewers, says it’s his belief that we knew about this when it left mainland China. We would have a way to track it over the Pacific. He is questioning why we didn’t take it out them.
Here’s what “Bloomberg” said about why we didn’t more about it after it entered U.S. airspace January 28th. It says: With such high profile trip at stake — meaning the secretary of state going — keeping it on the down-low was key. The White House opted not to inform the American public. Events, however, soon forced Biden’s hand.
As Lucas has reported and folks I’ve talked to in the Pentagon say, there are these balloons that have gone over before. So at what point do you have to tell the American public or not?
COTTON: Well, Shannon, what began as spy balloon has become a trial balloon, testing President Biden’s strength and resolve. And unfortunately, the president failed that test. And that’s dangerous for the American people. The president was paralyzed for entire week by a balloon.
We should have shot this balloon down over the Aleutian Islands. We should have never allowed it to transit the entire continental United States. And I think there’s a lot of open questions that the administration needs to answer to Congress on behalf of the American people about why they didn’t.
I think part is the president’s reluctance to take any action that will be viewed as provocative or confrontational towards the Chinese communists. I would say what’s provocative and confrontation is sending spy balloon all across America.
But second, I do believe the administration wanted to salvage the secretary of state’s trip on Friday night and they got through Thursday afternoon. Thankfully, civilians in Montana, in Billings, identified this balloon and blew the whistle on it, and finally, the administration fessed up to the American people. It took another 12 hours before the secretary of state cancelled what was an already an ill-advised trip.
So, I think there’s a lot of answers that the administration provide the American people.
BREAM: So, let me ask you about that, because you called immediately for the trip to be cancelled.
So, former Vice President Mike Pence did a different take. He did agree with you, shoot down the Chinese balloon. But he said, go ahead and send the secretary of state to China next week, have Secretary Blinken look them in the eye and tell them it better never happen again. That’s peace through strength.
So, why not have Blinken go and have this confrontation face-to-face?
COTTON: Well, if the president had chosen to shoot down the balloon when he should have over the Aleutians when — as soon as it entered our airspace, that might have been worth considering.
BREAM: Why do you think we didn’t?
COTTON: Again, I think President Biden was hoping not to take any confrontational action towards the Chinese communist. He wants to continue to develop what he called the momentum from his meeting with Xi Jinping in Bali last November, even though China has never taken any steps to try to bring down the temperature.
And as I write in “Only the Strong”, in many cases throughout history, Democratic presidents only take action like shooting down this balloon once their hand is forced. And I think on Thursday, when civilians in Montana identified this balloon, it — well, it forced the president’s hand.
I think it’s an open question that if this not become public, if the administration had not briefed this matter to Congress Thursday afternoon after it was about to become public, whether the president would have shot down the balloon once it got over the Atlantic Ocean.
BREAM: What about this contention that these balloons have gone over the U.S. or some portion of the U.S. under previous administrations and they didn’t shoot it down that we know of?
COTTON: So, I have spoken to a lot of former Trump administration officials. They say they’re not aware of anything like this happening during their administration. It’s possible maybe that happened first during the Obama administration and the military was told at the time that this is no big deal and they shouldn’t raise the alarm bells on it.
We need to get answers to that as well, though. I think some may be conflating what Lucas just reported, you know, balloons floating within the 12-mile exclusionary zones of places like Hawaii or Guam and a spy balloon going all across the middle of the country, those are two very different circumstances.
Maybe what’s even more worrisome is, one, did our senior military know about these balloons in the past and not inform their civilian superiors during the Trump administration? Or maybe worst of all, did we not know about these balloons in the past and we only learned them in retrospect by studying historical data?
Again, these are all open questions for which the American people deserve answers and we in Congress are going to get those answers.
BREAM: OK. So, you heard the Chinese government’s reaction. They say they reserve the right to make further responses, if necessary. And, last week, sitting right where you are, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said he agreed with — hoped it wasn’t true, but a general who’d spoken up and said to his troops, I think we could be in conflict with China, actual war by 2025.
So, where do you put the temperature this morning?
COTTON: Well, China has been waging a cold war against the United States for decades and, unfortunately, not many of our leaders have acknowledged that, they want to deny that it’s happening. But when a nation like China is waging a cold war against us, the only choice is whether to win or to lose.
And I think this spy balloon that so vividly went across America is a very high-profile reminder to Americans about what the Chinese communist have been up to. I got to tell you viewers, if they’re worried about a spy balloon flying across middle of America, let me tell them about the TikTok app that they may have on their phone and what it means for their security and their privacy and that of their children, as well.
BREAM: And it seemed like there’s a lot of bipartisan pushback and call for us to do something more about that as well, if not out right banning it.
OK. The president’s supporters say that this actually illustrates that he’s doing good job with China. And opinion piece in “Washington Post” talks about the spy — the spy balloon as clumsy attempt by China. They say it shows its immense capacity to blunder, a tendency that President Biden’s team has lately exploited to devastating effect. The Biden team has inflicted a series of humiliation on its chief rival.
They point to the semiconductor embargo out of China, the Philippines expanding access to the U.S. military and other things. They say he’s actually doing a good job.
COTTON: Well, unfortunately, I think the humiliation this week was inflicted by Chinese communist on the president. Again, we should have shot this balloon over the Aleutians as opposed to letting it float all across Middle America on its merry way.
I mean, the idea that we are going to let this go all across America, that a spy balloon complete its spy mission before we shot it down I’m afraid is an embarrassment to the United States, not an embarrassment to the Chinese communist who are constantly pushing the envelope, constantly probing to see how far they can get away with these maligned actions and, unfortunately, I think they feel that they probably got away with it here.
BREAM: OK. Let’s talk about classified documents. You all were briefed about documents that were found in possession of former President Trump, current President Biden, but you weren’t allowed to see the documents. There’s been bipartisan frustration expressed about that.
But the DOJ sent a letter to the Intel Committee, or at least a couple of the top senators back in January 28the. They said: The committee’s interest in overseeing the nation’s intelligence activities must be carefully balanced to protect the conduct and integrity of law enforcement investigations.
So, we have two special counsels now. You’ve threatened to shut down some Senate business over this and your Democratic colleagues say you’re looking for any excuse to shut down business in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
What will you do to get your hands on the documents?
COTTON: Well, there’s not a lot of business going on, first of all. We had three votes in first month of Senate.
But I would say, we haven’t been briefed on the nature of these documents. We haven’t seen the documents. We haven’t had damage assessment. We haven’t had them characterized, which is unacceptable.
When the Intelligence Committee’s main function is to oversee these agencies that operate in secret, that Department of Justice letter is nonsense. We have an absolute right to review these documents, to make an informed judgment about what if any national security implications they may have had. Maybe they have none at all. Maybe they’re just historical curiosities.
Whether there at Mar-a-Lago or President Biden’s many mansions or offices, or at Mike Pence’s home as well, maybe there’s grave damage. We have to see the documents to make that assessment.
Now, I will say that Chairman Mark Warner and the Vice Chair Marco Rubio have been leading our committee in a strong, bipartisan, unanimous fashion to try to get action on these documents and I hope the administration responds to their inquiries.
BREAM: Will you block judicial nominees over it?
COTTON: I’m not going to take that step yet, because again Chairman Warner and Vice Chair Marco Rubio speaking for the unanimous committee have been working cooperatively, trying to get access to these documents. I hope it doesn’t come to that.
I will say this whole incident, though, raises another example of a troubling double standards that the Department of Justice has applied. With Donald Trump, you had the FBI raiding Mar-a-Lago. With Mike Pence, you had the FBI showing up within hours of himself reporting the presence of certain classified documents at his home. But with Joe Biden, they were allowed to work through private lawyers representing the interest of the president before they conducted these searches.
We still have no characterization at all in the media about what was in these documents. Within hours of the Mike Pence revelation, certain media outlets were — have gotten leaks from the Department of Justice or the FBI what was in those documents, just like you had with Mar-a-Lago.
So, the double standard you see here is the double standard that the department has been applying time and time again these two last years. And it’s very troubling to most Americans.
BREAM: Do you have comment on the special counsel investigations?
COTTON: I’ll say this, the special counsel investigation is looking into whether any action may have been illegal. That’s not the focus of the Intelligence Committee.
That’s why our review of these documents doesn’t bear at all on their investigation. We’re reviewing documents that are marked as classified for what the national security damage might have been, if any. That is totally different from the Department of Justice’s inquiries into whether there’s illegal activity related to those documents.
BREAM: All right. Keep us updated if you get a look at them.
COTTON: Thank you, Shannon.
BREAM: Senator, thank you.
Related: Marco Rubio: China Delivered A ‘Message Embedded In’ Sending Spy Balloon To U.S.