House briefing on China spy balloon turns tense with Greene comments: ‘I chewed them out’

A classified briefing for House lawmakers on the Chinese spy balloon turned tense on Thursday when Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) went after administration officials for waiting days before shooting down the surveillance device.

“I had to wait in line the whole time. I was I think the second to last person, and I chewed them out just like the American people would’ve,” Greene told The Hill. “I tore ‘em to pieces.”

Biden administration officials briefed House members behind closed doors in the Capitol Thursday morning on this weekend’s downing of a Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast, which capped off a days-long saga of following the balloon as it floated over the U.S.

One lawmaker who attended the briefing said the exchange between Greene and the officials included profanities.

“When she got to ask questions,” the lawmaker recalled, “she was yelling out saying ‘bullshit,’ and, you know, ‘I don’t believe you.’”

“Just screaming and yelling, irrational in my estimation,” the lawmaker added.

Republicans have criticized the administration’s decision to wait to shoot down the balloon until it was over water — which allowed the device to travel through several states across the country. President Biden said he ordered the U.S. military to shoot down the balloon “as soon as possible,” and his national security officials determined that “the best time to do that was when it got over water.”

Greene said she expressed that GOP sentiment during Thursday’s briefing.

“I said the president may be a Democrat but he’s still the president of the United States and they made him look like a fool and made him look weak the week before the State of the Union — I’ve said that publicly, too — by not shooting it down,” Greene recalled. “And I said there was nothing I heard there today that gave me any confidence in what they did.”

“They tried to give me some more excuses and I said, ‘I don’t want to hear more of your excuses,’” Greene said when asked about how others in the room reacted to her time at the microphone. “He said, ‘well it’s a matter of opinion.’ I said ‘no, you’re nothing but excuses and it’s wrong and I’m just telling you, this is how the American people see it and it’s a serious problem.’”

Rep. Gregory Meeks (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said there was “tension in the room” during the briefing.

“There’s some members who just don’t want to believe what they said. They says ‘Oh, I don’t believe you,’ you know, that kind of thing, ‘I don’t trust you,’” he said. “So that’s the kind of tension, just the fight back.”

Another lawmaker said “there were people muttering on the side,” described as making quiet comments so people around them would hear that were not made to the panel directly.

And a third said the meeting featured “remarks out loud” over “the course” of the briefing from “more than one” GOP lawmaker.

The Pentagon announced on Feb. 2 that the government had detected and was tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon over the continental U.S. that belonged to the People’s Republic of China. It was first detected on Jan. 28.

Days later, on Feb. 4, the U.S. Air Force shot down the balloon off the Carolina coast, and an operation began to recover the debris.

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said officials at Thursday’s briefing explained their decision-making process.

“They shared what happened and the decision process that they took in deciding what to do when they did it and believe that by taking it down over the water, they’ll have a chance to recover and learn lessons,” he said.

Meeks called the briefing “very helpful” and “very transparent,” 

“Any question that was asked of them they answered,” he said. “I think it confirms … some of what’s already out in the public domain that at no time was American sovereignty — and everybody’s upset about that — was violated, but America was safe.”

“There’s a determination that … it did not present a threat to the United States. And by tracking it across, knowing that it wasn’t a threat, we learned much more than we would have had we destroyed it earlier,” he added.

Some Republicans, however, were less impressed with the briefing, noting that little new information was presented.

“I’m [an] intel guy by trade. And I read all the paper articles about it. I would just say I didn’t learn a whole lot,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said. “I didn’t come away a whole lot wiser.”

“It was good they had it. I learned a couple things that I didn’t read in public sources,” Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) recalled. “Everything else pretty much, if you read other public sources you kind of got it.”

Greene, whose office said her outfit at the State of the Union was meant to echo the Chinese spy balloon, summed up the briefing in two categories.

“One doesn’t sound so nice, but it sounded like bullshit. The other one, is it was a bunch of excuses,” she said.

“They allowed it to go across the country and there was nothing they told us in there that gave us a good reason to think they made the right move,” she said. “As a matter of fact, they made the wrong move.”

Emily Brooks contributed.

Tags Brad Schneider Gregory Meeks Joe Biden Marjorie Taylor Greene

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