What to Know in Washington: US Shoots Down Fourth Object

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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 Says US Balloons Trespassed Over 10 Times Since Early 2022

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

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House Republicans Probe Alleged Bias at Archives, Letters Show

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


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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 mross@bgov.com

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