A suspected Chinese spy balloon that was initially discovered over Montana has sailed across the United States and could end up over the Carolinas later this weekend, according to a report.
The Chinese balloon was discovered hovering at about 60,000 feet just north of Billings, Montana, on Thursday before it moved over Columbia, Missouri, Friday. It could make its way as far east as Raleigh, North Carolina, by Saturday afternoon, according to WNCN.
The high-altitude balloon has been the subject of international contention as its presence over Montana, home to Malmstrom Air Force Base and dozens of nuclear missile silos, caused doubt over Beijing’s claim that the balloon was gathering weather information before it went off course.
It also roiled diplomatic tensions between Beijing and Washington and abruptly broke off an upcoming trip U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was scheduled to make to China.
Blinken would have been the most senior official to visit the country since the coronavirus pandemic began in 2019.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry claims the “civilian airship” is being used for “research, mainly meteorological, purposes.” A spokesperson said the balloon had “limited self-steering capability” and had “deviated far from its planned course.”
President Biden has, so far, decided not to bring down the balloon as it “does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday that the president is “keeping all options on the table.”
“The president will always put the safety and security of the American people first,” she added. “We are tracking closely and keeping all options on the table.”
Members of Congress and 2024 Republican hopefuls have publicly pressured the Biden administration to bring down the balloon immediately.
“Shoot. It. Down,” Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., tweeted Thursday. “The Chinese spy balloon is clear provocation. In Montana, we do not bow. We shoot it down. Take the shot.”
“President Biden should stop coddling and appeasing the Chinese communists,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Neb., tweeted Friday. “Bring the balloon down now and exploit its tech package, which could be an intelligence bonanza.”
“SHOOT DOWN THE BALLOON!” former President Donald Trump wrote on Truth Social Friday morning.
“Shoot down the balloon,” Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley added on Twitter two hours later. “Cancel Blinken’s trip. Hold China accountable. Biden is letting China walk all over us. It’s time to make America strong again.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.