WASHINGTON – Top Republicans in Congress are demanding answers from the Biden administration about the alleged Chinese surveillance balloon that has been floating over the northern US in recent days.

They lashed out directly at President Joe Biden, arguing that the incident shows that the US position and policies are not deterring China. Many leading Republicans also said that the United States should have shot down the balloon.

Staff members of the bipartisan «Gang of Eight» leadership group on Capitol Hill received a classified briefing Thursday afternoon on the globe, three sources familiar with the situation told NBC News on Friday. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, one of eight lawmakers, tweeted Thursday night that he was requesting a meeting for the group, but most of the leaders are likely to have left Washington by the end of the day. of week.

«China’s blatant disregard for US sovereignty is a destabilizing action that must be addressed, and President Biden cannot remain silent.» McCarthy tweeted.

The high-altitude balloon was seen over Billings, Montana, on Wednesday after having flown over the Aleutian Islands and Canada. Pentagon press secretary Pat Ryder said Friday the balloon was flying at an altitude of 60,000 feet, above civil and military aviation, and was moving east across the continental US. He refused to reveal his exact location.

Several top Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, on Friday called for the Biden administration to shoot down the balloon, which some military leaders had discussed. Ryder told his briefing on Friday that the military was still «reviewing options» but he had not shot down the balloon because «At this time we assess that there is no physical threat or military threat to the people on the ground.»

Trump posted on his Truth Social platform, «RUN THE GLOBE!»

Sen. Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, one of the most vocal critics in Congress of the Chinese government and US policy towards China, also called on the US government to shoot down the balloon.

“President Biden should stop coddling and appeasing the Chinese communists. Take the balloon down now and exploit the technology package on it, which could be an intelligence bonanza,” Cotton said. “And President Biden and Secretary Austin must answer if this [balloon] was detected over Alaskan airspace. If so, why didn’t we bring it there? If not, why not? As usual, the provocations of the Chinese communists have been met with weakness and hand-wringing.»

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, tweeted, “It was a mistake not to shoot down that Chinese spy balloon when it was over a sparsely populated area. This is not a hot air balloon, it has a large sensor payload about the size of two city buses and the ability to maneuver independently.”

China said on Friday that the balloon was a «civilian airship» used for meteorological research that had blown off course.

In a statement about his websiteThe Beijing Foreign Ministry said: «The Chinese side regrets the involuntary entry of the aircraft into US airspace due to force majeure» – strong winds and lack of steering ability that caused the object to move. stray «far from its planned course.»

Ryder rejected Beijing’s claims, saying: «We know it’s a surveillance balloon.»

Sen. Rick Scott, a Florida Republican, another outspoken critic of China, said the balloon should be a wake-up call for Biden.

«Xi is shamelessly spying on the United States because he does not fear or respect @JoeBiden. Communist China is our enemy, and Biden needs to wake up and start acting like it,» he said. tweeted.

Montana Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte said in a cheep who received a briefing on Thursday about the globe.

Montana’s two senators, Republican Steve Daines and Democrat Jon Tester, expressed concern that the balloon was in their airspace. Daines sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday «requesting a full security briefing from the administration on this situation.» Tester called the situation Friday «completely unacceptable» and vowed to «defend Montana and our national security from hostile adversaries like China.»

Tester’s office said he is expected to receive a classified briefing on the situation when he returns to Washington next week. A classified briefing for all senators focused on China had previously been scheduled for February 15, before the globe news broke.

The top Democrats and Republicans on the House select committee that focuses on the US-China competition issued a joint statement on the situation, saying China has become a national threat.

“The Chinese Communist Party should not have on-demand access to US airspace,” he said. Reps. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisconsin, and Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., said. “Not only is this a violation of American sovereignty, coming just days before Secretary Blinken’s trip to the PRC, but it also makes it clear that the CCP’s recent diplomatic overtures do not represent a substantive change in the politics. In fact, this incident proves that the CCP’s threat is not limited to distant shores, it is right here at home, and we must act to counter this threat.»

Blinken was expected to travel to China late Friday on a previously planned trip, but a senior State Department official said the trip has been postponed.

Liz Brown-Kaiser, frank thorp, haley talbot, abigail williams , Andrea Mitchell Y Ken Dilanian contributed.