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The US military had never shot down an object in American airspace before taking out a Chinese balloon off South Carolina earlier this month. Now it’s becoming a near-daily occurrence.
The sudden spate of US jets blasting unidentified objects of mysterious origin from the skies has provoked so much befuddlement — not to mention panic — that Pentagon officials were forced to field questions about the issue Sunday night, just as Americans were tuning into the second quarter of the Super Bowl. One reporter even asked if it was possible the objects-turned-targets were sent by extraterrestrials.
“I haven’t ruled out anything at this point,” said General Glen VanHerck, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
In reality, the answer is probably more mundane. Officials said they had started watching the skies more closely in the days since the alleged Chinese spy balloon traversed US territory, provoking both a national uproar and a new round of tensions with China. That resulted in shootdowns of smaller objects over Alaska on Friday, northern Canada on Saturday, and Michigan on Sunday.
“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,” Assistant Secretary of Defense Melissa Dalton told reporters.
The growing number of incidents is raising more questions about the direction of relations between the world’s two largest economies, especially now that the Biden administration is hyper-alert about the threat it says is posed by a global Chinese military-backed surveillance program spanning more than 40 countries — a claim Beijing has rejected.
China also stepped up accusations against the Biden administration, saying on Monday the US sent balloons over its territory more than 10 times since the beginning of 2022. Over the weekend, a Chinese news outlet, The Paper, said China was getting ready to take down an unidentified object flying over its waters near the port city of Qingdao. Read more from Peter Martin.
- On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Congress should look into why “it took so long for us, our military, our intelligence to know about these balloons,” adding that the US “got enormous intelligence information” from tracking the Chinese balloon. “We can’t just have a cold war with them,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “We have to have a relationship with them.” Read more
Also Happening on the Hill
- The House is out for two weeks.
- The Senate returns at 3 p.m. to vote on judicial nominations.
Schumer Sunday also said a US ban on TikTok is worth looking at, citing Chinese ownership of the company behind the video-sharing platform.
Senator John Fetterman (D-Pa.) was released from a Washington hospital on Friday, two days after feeling lightheaded at a Democratic Senate retreat. He will will likely be back in the chamber this week.
A tax treaty with Chile that won bipartisan support last year is now entangled in a debate between Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee and the Treasury Department.
The House voted Feb. 9 to overturn two laws enacted by the government of Washington, D.C., kicking off lawmakers’ efforts in the 118th Congress to target local initiatives in the nation’s capital.
Elections & Politics
Governor Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) is actively preparing a run for president in 2024, even as he delays a formal announcement to keep Republican voters’ attention on his aggressively conservative record in Florida, according to people familiar with the plans.
US Supreme Court justices recused themselves in roughly 3% of appeals since 2018, with Samuel Alito and Elena Kagan doing so most often, a Bloomberg Law analysis shows.
House Republicans are investigating the National Archives and Records Administration over claims of “political bias,” alleging the agency treated President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents differently than it did former President Donald Trump, according to documents released Friday.
- Meanwhile, the National Archives and Records Administration released dozens of emails Friday that show agency officials working with a personal lawyer for Biden to recover documents discovered at Biden’s think tank. Read more
- Separately, Trump’s legal team turned over several pages of documents with classified markings and a laptop containing electronic scans of those materials to federal investigators in recent months, a person familiar with the situation said. Read more
- One of Trump’s lawyers appeared before a federal grand jury last month as part of the special counsel investigation into whether the classified information and other government records found at Mar-a-Lago were mishandled, according to people familiar with the matter. Read more
- FBI agents discovered a document with classified markings during a five-hour search of former Vice President Mike Pence’s Indiana home on Friday, adding to a batch discovered last month. Read more
Around the Administration
- Biden has no public events. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre gives a briefing at 1 p.m.
The number of migrants apprehended at the southern border dropped last month after the Biden administration opened some new legal pathways to the US and expanded enforcement against those who try to cross without authorization.
The US government is moving urgently to nurture new offshore wind and carbon storage industries despite some economic hurdles, according to the nation’s newly minted ocean energy regulator.
Biden will travel to Poland this month to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the White House announced.
Russia’s plan to slash its oil output by 500,000 barrels a day next month shows the extent to which President Vladimir Putin is willing to use resources like energy as a weapon, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said at a briefing Friday in Washington.
Biden, meeting his Brazilian counterpart at the White House, said “democracy prevailed” in both the US and Brazil after severe attacks against its institutions.
Super Bowl commercials usually focus on commodities like snack food or technology for keeping up with the Joneses, but the federal government is no stranger to using the event for public outreach. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has spent $75,000 annually in Super Bowl advertising since fiscal 2019.
City Focus: Remote Work Costs Manhattan More Than $12B a Year
What’s the value of a city when workers don’t need to be there anymore?
It’s a question municipalities around the globe have been trying to answer for three years, since Covid-19 changed the way we work. New exclusive data analyzed by Bloomberg News and Bloomberg Tax reveals that for many US cities, returning to pre-pandemic work schedules looks like a lost cause.
In Manhattan alone, workers are spending at least $12 billion less a year due to fewer days in the office. How to respond to this new normal is the question now for some city officials.
“If less income tax is being paid in New York City,” said Comptroller Brad Lander, “then it’s hard to figure out how to capture enough value to maintain the subways and invest in the schools and keep the city safe and clean and all the things that really matter.” Read the full story and complete analysis.
To contact the reporter on this story: Michaela Ross in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org