The House of Representatives voted to pass a resolution condemning China’s use of the suspected surveillance balloon that was shot down by US jets over the weekend, in a rare moment of unity in a sharply divided chamber.
The measure passed unanimously with overwhelming bipartisan support by a vote of 419 to zero, and the resolution serves as a symbolic rebuke of the Chinese government and is not binding legislatively.
It condemns “the Chinese Communist Party’s use of a high-altitude surveillance balloon over United States territory as a brazen violation of United States sovereignty.”
Additionally, the resolution calls on the Biden administration “to continue to keep Congress apprised by providing comprehensive briefings” on the incident.
The measure was introduced by Republican Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee.
“Last week, the nation watched in shock as a Chinese surveillance balloon traversed much of the United States, including sensitive American military sites,” McCaul said in a statement. The chairman said that the resolution sends a message “that this kind of aggression will not be tolerated.”
McCaul told CNN that he was one of the Republicans who encouraged GOP leaders to change the resolution so that it condemned China instead of the Biden administration, which was the original plan under consideration.
“We wanted it to be America against China – not internal fighting, because China would see that as a moment of weakness, that we’re divided on party lines, and we didn’t want to project that,” McCaul said. “We want to project that we’re unified with one voice against China. And a 419 vote demonstrates that.”
The vote took place under suspension of the rules, which requires two-thirds of the chamber to vote in favor for passage – a procedure used for measures expected to win widespread bipartisan support.
Senators react to briefing
Senate Republicans and Democrats were divided over the administration’s handling of the suspected spy balloon after a classified briefing by key officials on Thursday.
Many Senate Democrats were content with the explanation and strongly defended the administration’s actions, while most Republicans voiced frustrations with the answers provided and think the balloon should have been shot down before it entered the continental United States’ airspace.
Some lawmakers offered a different assessment from others in their party.
GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, leaving the classified briefing on China, told CNN he believed the US made the right decision to wait to shoot down the suspected spy balloon.
“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. 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,” he said.
Asked if he agreed with their decision to wait to shoot down the balloon, Romney said: “Yes.”
Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, who is up for reelection in 2024, said ahead of the briefing on Thursday that the Biden administration was going to need to “justify” its actions in relation to the balloon. He also said, prior to the briefing, he thinks the administration “could be better” at being forthcoming with information on the balloon.
Fallout over incident
The Biden administration has determined that the balloon was operating with electronic surveillance technology capable of monitoring US communications, according to a senior State Department official.
However, the US has said it has been able to prevent the balloon from intercepting US communications.
President Joe Biden suggested Wednesday that bilateral relations with China had not been affected by the balloon fallout, but China reacted angrily to the shootdown, refusing a call with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin – and Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a high-stakes trip to Beijing.
Biden said Monday the US “did the right thing” when it shot down the balloon and maintained that he always wanted to bring it down “as soon as it was appropriate.”
On Saturday, the US military shot down the high-altitude balloon after it drifted off the East Coast near the Carolinas.
China has acknowledged the balloon belonged to them, but insisted it was a civilian research vessel and was not being used for surveillance.
This story has been updated with additional developments.
CNN’s Manu Raju, Ted Barrett, Melanie Zanona, Jennifer Hansler and Nikki Carvajal contributed to this report.