After classified briefing, Romney backs Biden's handling of Chinese spy balloon incursion

The Utah Republican senator said he agreed with the Pentagon's decision to wait until after the balloon was over the ocean before shooting it down.

Sen. Mitt Romney
Sen. Mitt Romney R-Utah. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, broke ranks with many of his party colleagues Thursday, telling reporters following a classified briefing on the Chinese balloon incursion over U.S. airspace last week that the Biden administration, the U.S. military and intelligence agencies dealt with the situation properly.

“I believe that the administration, the president, our military and intelligence agencies acted skillfully and with care. At the same time, their capabilities are extraordinarily impressive,” Romney told CNN's Manu Raju.

That assessment stands in marked contrast to the torrent of criticism many Republicans have directed at President Biden. Prior to Thursday’s briefing with lawmakers, the overriding sentiment from the president’s GOP critics had been that Biden should have ordered the Pentagon to shoot down the balloon before it crossed over the country, rather than after it had cleared the South Carolina coastline.

“We should have shot this balloon down over the Aleutian Islands. We should never have allowed it to transit the entire continental United States,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on "Fox News Sunday."

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, offered a similar critique on Monday.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who posed with a white balloon in apparent reference to the incident before heading into the State of the Union address, has been especially vocal in her criticism of the president.

“The Biden admin allowed the Chinese Spy Balloon to traverse the entire US and gather intel on our critical military infrastructure while the entire country screamed to shoot it down, before they finally shot it down,” she tweeted Saturday. “Biden refused to stop China.”

State Department officials said Thursday that the debris from the downed spy balloon contained equipment that was “likely capable of collecting and geo-locating communications,” and that it was part of a Chinese surveillance operation that had flown similar missions over 40 countries.

Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), told reporters on Monday that the balloon had been 200 feet tall. Its payload, VanHerck said, was estimated to be more than 2,000 pounds.

While it is unclear what new information was given to lawmakers in the classified briefing on Thursday, Romney, at least, appeared satisfied by what he heard.

“Was everything done 100% correctly? I can’t imagine that would be the case of almost anything we do. But I came away more confident,” Romney told CNN, adding that he agreed with the decision to wait before shooting down the balloon.