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Critics say Americans need answers from Biden on the unidentified flying objects

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

The White House has cleared up one big question about the unidentified flying objects shot down over North America this past weekend.

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KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: There is no - again, no indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity with these recent takedowns.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

That was Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. And the answer, as you heard, got laughs from the press. But it needed to be said. It's unprecedented that three fighter jets shoot down three objects over the course of just three days.

KHALID: Despite the unprecedented situation, though, President Biden himself has yet to offer any explanations about what is happening. For more, we are joined by NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow. Scott, it is good to speak with you.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning, Asma.

KHALID: So this is an unusual situation, I think, to say the least. Why has the president not explained what's going on?

DETROW: I mean, that's a great question. And the White House has not answered direct questions about when we can expect to hear from the president. He did not hold any public events yesterday. He is giving a speech today, but it's on a different topic. And that has really generated a lot of criticism. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell summed most of it up on the Senate floor.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: President Biden owes the American people some answers. What are we shooting down? Where do they come from, whether they are hostile or not? Is there coherent guidance about when to shoot them down?

DETROW: And I will say, some of this is deliberate. The White House does not want people to panic or think that this is a crisis. So they are giving a lot of briefings. But as of yet, they are not elevating it to a presidential statement or speech. Today, the Senate will get a classified briefing. But I'll say, even if it's not aliens, even if the White House doesn't view it as a crisis, I would say three objects being shot out of the sky over the course of three days is something I think many people likely expect to hear from the president about.

KHALID: OK. So what is the White House saying? If the president himself hasn't come out and spoken, what is the White House saying about this sudden surge of unidentified flying objects?

DETROW: Yesterday, spokesman John Kirby echoed what the Pentagon had said, that the initial spy balloon caused the military to reassess how it looks at the radar. It had been set to essentially ignore high-flying, slow-moving objects. That was tweaked. And suddenly, the military noticed these smaller objects. Over the weekend, the three different objects were deemed a risk to commercial flights, particularly because they were flying at lower altitudes than that initial balloon. And I asked John Kirby during this briefing yesterday, should we assume that this many objects are typically flying over the U.S.? Or is there some sort of surge of activity right now? And there's not a clear answer to that question.

KHALID: So Scott, if U.S. officials are identifying more of these objects in the sky, is the new norm going to be that they just shoot down anything at this altitude?

DETROW: That is yet another good question without a clear answer right now. The White House says it's planning to study this more and consult with allies about it. But it's less clear how they're going to talk to China about this issue. Remember, President Biden and the White House talk so much about wanting competition with China, not conflict. They say over and over and over that they want clear communication, to be on the same page. Now we have meetings between top U.S. and Chinese officials being canceled. And I think there's a real threat that relations could veer in the direction of conflict instead of compromise if this continues.

KHALID: All right. That's NPR's Scott Detrow. It is always good to talk to you.

DETROW: Talk to you soon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.