Biden prepares for State of the Union as US collects Chinese balloon debris – as it happened | US politics


The White House press briefing has concluded, which brings us to the close of the politics liveblog. We’ll be back tomorrow morning with the latest ahead of the president’s State of the Union address. Here’s a look back at what happened today.

  • White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended the president’s decision to shoot down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon, which Republicans say should have happened immediately after the orb was discovered in US airspace and Beijing has called an overreaction. “What China did was unacceptable. We protected civilians and we gained more intel while protecting our own sensitive information.”

  • Previewing Biden’s speech tomorrow, Jean-Pierre said Biden has been “heavily engaged” in the writing process. He spent the weekend huddled with advisors and speechwriters fine-tuning the remarks, which she said he saw as an important opportunity to speak directly with the American people about his agenda. “There’ll be no question that this is a Joe Biden State of the Union speech,” she said.

  • She also reiterated that the Biden administration was willing to brief former Trump officials on intelligence discovered after they left office that China had sent at least three spy balloons into US airspace when they were in charge.

  • Brian Deese, the outgoing director of the National Economic Council, said the president intended to outline his economic agenda to the American people – touting his accomplishments while also making the case that more work needed to be done. He said the president would directly address the standoff with Republicans over raising the federal debt-limit. Echoing the president, Deese said the state of the US economy was “strong.”

  • The US is sending assistance to Turkey and Syria, including personnel to help with the search and rescue mission, after a devastating earthquake left thousands dead. The White House said Biden would speak directly to the president of Turkey on Monday.

  • Biden is en route back to the White House, after a delay that Jean-Pierre suggested was due to State of the Union prep.

Key events

Jean-Pierre indicated that the president would address the US’s relationship with China in his address tomorrow, noting that foreign policy is always an important part of the speech, but she would not give specifics.

She said the US will keep “open lines of communication” with China. Asked how damaging the incident was to the US-China relationship, Jean-Pierre said it was “up to China to figure out what kind of relationship they want”.

She also said that Secretary of State Antony Blinken would reschedule his planned visit to China, which was scrapped after the country’s balloon intruded into US airspace.

“When the time permits, we’ll see that trip back on the books,” she said.

She also defended the president’s decision to shoot down the balloon amid Republican criticism that he waited too long to take action: “What China did was unacceptable. We protected civilians and we got to gain more intel while protecting our own sensitive information.”

Back at the White House, Deese has left the briefing room and Jean-Pierre is taking over.

The first question was about Biden’s delayed returned from Camp David. He was due to return to the White House at midday but has not arrived yet. Jean-Pierre said she had no updated ETA for the president, but suggested he was hunkered down working on Tuesday’s address.

Next she was asked about the aforementioned polling that suggests Democrats – and Americans broadly – are not eager from him to run again in 2024. Jean-Pierre, barred by the Hatch Act from discussing certain political activities, said she believes the midterms validated Biden’s vision for the country and repeated the president’s retort to naysayers: “watch me”.

Julian Borger

Meanwhile at the state department, spokesperson Ned Price has been talking about the Chinese balloon affair. He noted that the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, had warned his counterpart, Wang Yi, on Friday that the US would take “appropriate actions to protect our interests”.

“It should not have come as a complete surprise” to Beijing when the balloon was shot down the following day, Price said. If it had been a US airship over China, “you can only imagine the response from Beijing”, he added.

Price said that the US and allies were reviewing the extent of the military threat from high-altitude balloon at the edge of the atmosphere, especially in light of the revelation that there had been several previous incursions by Chinese balloons which were not spotted at the time.

“We’re discussing this with our allies and partners, we’re comparing notes about what has happened to us in recent days, what has happened to us within recent years as well,” Price said. “We want to learn as much as we can about, not only what’s happened recently, but in recent years, and we’re going to take steps to protect our interests as appropriate.”

Previewing more of Biden’s remarks in his state of the union address on Tuesday, Deese said Biden will speak about his values and principles for Social Security and Medicare. The White House has assailed Republicans who have proposed – or failed to rule out – cuts to the programs.

He said many of the specific policy proposals would be contained in the White House’s 2024 budget request to Congress.

At the briefing, Deese repeated Biden’s assessment from last week: “I will just say what [Biden] said on Friday, which is that ‘the state of the economy is strong.’”

But he was pressed on the disconnect between Americans’ pessimism about their financial circumstances and the administration’s assessment that the economy is improving. “Is there a perception gap on inflation here,” one reporter asked Deese.

He said there wasn’t, and said lowering inflation and bringing down every day costs were the president’s top priority. He added that American’s fears about the economy were understandable given the uncertainty caused by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

This has been a very challenging period,” he said. “Even as personal household circumstances for the majority of people have improved, the economic anxiety is real.”

Reporters are now hearing from Brian Deese, the outgoing director of the National Economic Council, who is touting the economic progress made over the past two years.

He emphasized that there is still “more work to do” but pointed to indicators – like easing inflation and gas prices – as signs that the administration’s policies were working.

“I think the core message is we have to make more progress but people should feel optimism that because of what have seen, because of the progress that we have made, we know how to make progress going forward,” he said.

He added that as part of that mission, Congress will need to keep lowering everyday costs for Americans, through initiatives that would bring down prescription drug prices and the cost of childcare and eldercare.

On the debt limit, Deese said Biden would make the explicit case in his State of the Union address that the “full faith and credit of the United States … isn’t something that anybody should use as a bargaining chip”

“The economic consequences of even questioning that bedrock principle can be quite severe – so you’ll hear that clearly from the president,” he continued, adding that Biden would demonstrate an “openness” and an “eagerness” to discuss with Republicans “the fiscal and economic priorities of the country, and where we can find common ground”.

Biden to speak with Erdoğan after devastating earthquake

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre begins the briefing by extending condolences to Turkey and Syria after a once-in-a-century earthquake left at least 2,300 people dead and cities devastated.

She said US is in the process of sending additional personnel to support the Turkish search and rescue effort as well to assist in Syria. She said Biden would speak shortly with the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Since the midterms, Democrats have largely rallied around Biden as their inevitable standard-bearer in 2024. But concerns remain about the president’s age and his hardiness for political battle, possibly in a re-match against Donald Trump or against a younger, rising Republican star.

To that end, new polling showing Trump leading Biden by three percentage points in a hypothetical 2024 matchup has rattled some Democrats.

Julián Castro, the former Secretary of Health and Human Services under Barack Obama who challenged Biden for the party’s nomination in 2020, called the poll “worrisome” in a tweet.

It’s the general consensus that Dems are content with Biden in a Trump rematch. But this poll undermines Biden’s central argument for re-nomination.

Two years is forever and it’s just one poll, but if he’s faring this poorly after a string of wins, that should be worrisome.

— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) February 6, 2023

Trump’s lead is within the margin of error, and two years is a lifetime in presidential politics, as Castro notes. But it was enough to prompt a prominent Democrat to reopen publicly the debate over whether Biden is the party’s best chance at winning the White House in two years.

New York representative George Santos has invited a former firefighter who was on the ground in NYC during 9/11 to tomorrow’s State of the Union, despite Santos’ own false claims about having family who died during to 9/11.

Santos has invited Michael Weinstock, a Democrat who once ran in Santos’ district and former volunteer, to attend the address.

Weinstock told the New York Times that he hopes to raise awareness about health conditions still facing 9/11 rescue workers.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that I’ll be able to stay focused enough on the issue of 9/11 responders receiving the health care that they need without being sullied by George Santos,” said Weinstock to the Times.

Santos is under investigation for several lies told during his campaign, including his claim that his mother died during 9/11.

It was later discovered that Santos’ mother passed in 2016, more than 10 years after the terrorist attack.

Read the full article here (paywall).

US working to collect Chinese balloon debris, officials say

Senior US officials said today that that the Biden administration is working to collect the debris of the Chinese surveillance balloon that was shot over the Atlantic Ocean.

General Glen David VanHerck of the United States Northern Command said that Navy ships are working to collect debris from the surveillance balloon and mapping out the ocean’s surface, reported ABC News.

NEW on Chinese balloon recovery: Gen. VanHerck of NORTHCOM says Navy ships are now collecting debris and mapping the ocean’s surface — they expect the debris field is around 1,500 square meters. EOD are out in a RHIB boat to pilot unmanned subs to scan for hazardous debris.

— Matt Seyler (@MattSeyler) February 6, 2023

VanHerck called the lack of early detection on the balloon an “awareness gap,” reported Politico.

Just in: NORTHCOM commander, on the previous incidents of Chinese spy balloons overflying the US, says: “We did not detect those threats and that’s a domain awareness gap.”

— Lara Seligman (@laraseligman) February 6, 2023

The intel community, after the fact, assessed those threats through “additional means of collection,” he said.

— Lara Seligman (@laraseligman) February 6, 2023

Interim summary

Joe Biden returns to the White House today from a weekend trip to Camp David, ahead of the State of the Union address tomorrow night. At 2.15pm today, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre is due to brief the media in the west wing. It’s been a fairly tranquil start to the day in US politics news but stick with us for developments as they happen.

Here’s where things stand:

  • Former vice president Mike Pence postponed a visit to the key primary state of South Carolina today after his daughter went into labor in California. Speculation is rising that Pence, who’s essentially fallen out with Donald Trump, will run for the presidency in the 2024 election.

  • Federal investigators from the FBI are preparing to search Pence’s Indiana home, looking for additional classified materials, within the coming days, a fresh report today said, seeming to confirm last week’s initial report on this.

  • There’s a decline in the percentage of Americans who think the state of the USA is “strong,” according to the latest opinion poll, which shows predictable partisan splits.

  • Joe Biden is preparing to deliver his second state of the union address tomorrow evening, ready to tout his administration’s achievements so far and the relatively good state of the US economy right now, despite the event being clouded by rows over the Chinese spy balloon and the gaping hole in Biden’s legislative achievements on policing reform, especially embarrassing following the death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis last month after a brutal beating by police. Biden prepares for State of the Union as US collects Chinese balloon debris – as it happened | US politics

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