Senators are scheduled to receive a classified briefing on China on Wednesday, days after the U.S. shot down an “unidentified” object over Lake Huron – bringing the number of downed objects to four in about a week.
It will mark the second briefing in one week, after a spy balloon linked to Beijing was downed off the Carolina coast last weekend.
Also this week, Senate committees are set to hold a number of hearings on topics ranging from protecting children online to cryptocurrency and the Federal Aviation Administration. The chamber will also vote on a number of judicial nominations.
The House is out of session this week.
Senate briefing on China
All senators will receive a classified briefing on China from the Pentagon on Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) first announced the briefing last weekend, shortly after a Chinese spy balloon had been shot down off the Carolina coast.
Since then, however, three more unidentified objects have been downed by the U.S. military – one over Alaska on Friday, another over Canada on Saturday at the direction of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and, on Sunday, a fourth over Lake Huron.
Schumer on Sunday, after being briefed by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, told ABC’s “This Week” that “they believe” the second and third objects were balloons, though significantly smaller than the first Chinese spy balloon.
The fourth object was shot down at 2:42 p.m. eastern time on Sunday at the direction of President Biden and based on the recommendation of military officials, according to the Pentagon. The object was flying at roughly 20,000 feet above Lake Huron, the Pentagon said, which is far lower than the previous three objects.
“Its path and altitude raised concerns, including that it could be a hazard to civil aviation,” the Pentagon said. Officials are now working to recover the object to learn more, according to Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder.
Melissa Dalton, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and hemispheric affairs, on Sunday said the increase in aerial objects being spotted – and shot down – could be because of enhanced radar systems.
“In light of the People’s Republic of China balloon that we took down last Saturday, we have been more closely scrutinizing our airspace at these altitudes, including enhancing our radar, which may at least partly explain the increase in objects that we’ve detected over the past week,” she told reporters during a briefing.
“As we learn more about these objects, and certainly the PRC balloon, we’re going to enhance our understanding of the characteristics of them. That will perhaps enable us to look back at prior instances that were potentially overlooked,” she added.
Tuesday’s briefing comes after Biden administration officials briefed House and Senate lawmakers behind closed doors last week. Emerging from the meeting, Democrats largely supported the Biden administration’s response to the Chinese spy balloon, while Republicans argued that officials should have downed it immediately instead of allowing it to travel across continental U.S. to the Atlantic Ocean.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), however, broke from his party and defended the administration’s reaction.
Senators started weighing in Sunday afternoon, after the fourth object was shot down.
“The lack of communication from the Biden administration regarding the closing of Montana airspace last night and the recent shoot-downs that took place over Alaska and Canada is unacceptable,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) wrote in a statement.
“President Biden owes Montanans and the country an immediate and full explanation,” he added.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) thanked the military for “for shooting down the object above Lake Huron” on Twitter.
A number of Senate committees are scheduled to hold hearings this week.
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday will hold a hearing on online child safety and privacy, zeroing in on risks, threats and harms facing kids online.
The event, titled “Protecting Our Children Online,” will feature testimony from a social media reform advocate and an official from the American Psychological Association, among others.
Also on Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs is scheduled to hold a hearing on cryptocurrency.
Titled “Crypto Crash: Why Financial System Safeguards are Needed for Digital Assets,” the policy director of the Duke Financial Economics Center, a visiting scholar from the Georgetown Institute of International Economic Law and a professor from the Vanderbilt University Law School are slated to testify.
On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation is scheduled to hold a hearing on system failures with the Federal Aviation Administration’s NOTAM System. Billy Nolen, the acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, is slated to testify.
Alex Bolton contributed reporting
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This story was originally published February 13, 2023, 5:00 AM.