Marco Rubio Slammed for Fearing China Balloon not 'Trump Insurrection'

Former GOP strategist Steve Schmidt accused Senator Marco Rubio of "fear-mongering" about the suspected Chinese spy balloon.

Rubio, like many of his Republican colleagues, offered criticism of the Biden administration's handling of the balloon, which was first spotted over Montana last Wednesday and floated across the U.S. before being shot down over the Atlantic Ocean over the weekend. The Florida Republican took to cable news shows over the weekend to warn about the implications the balloon will have on U.S.-China relations.

During an appearance on ABC News' This Week, Rubio said he believes the balloon was a "deliberate" attempt by the Chinese government to depict the U.S. as weak amid growing tensions over Taiwan.

"The message they were trying to send is what they believe internally—and that is that the United States is a once-great superpower that's hollowed out and in decline," he said. "The message they're trying to send the world is, 'Look, these guys can't even do anything about a balloon flying over U.S. airspace. How can you possibly count on them if something were to happen in the Indo-Pacific region?'"

Schmidt criticizes Rubio over Chinese spy balloon
Above, a photograph of United States Senator Marco Rubio alongside an inset of former GOP strategist Steve Schmidt. Schmidt on Monday accused Rubio, a Florida Republican, of "fearing" the Chinese spy balloon but not former President Donald Trump's "insurrection" in a lengthy criticism about his remarks on the balloon. John Parra/WireImage; Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Rubio's remarks about the suspected spy balloon sparked criticism from Schmidt, who accused him of "fear-mongering" over the situation in a Substack piece published Monday. He wrote that Rubio "fears" the spy balloon, but not former President Donald Trump's "insurrection," a reference to the January 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Schmidt also wrote that Rubio's focus on the Chinese spy balloon was misguided, because "very few people" will remember it in six months and that his stance is "rooted in pretending the balloon wasn't actually shot down—which of course it was."

"Maybe the 'decline' Rubio is talking about is evidenced by Rubio talking. Maybe the 'decline' that the Chinese were watching was America's political and media 'decline,'" Schmidt wrote. "Maybe they wanted to see the stupidity play out second by second like an MRI scanning a body injected with contrast dye."

When reached by Newsweek on Monday, a Rubio spokesperson defended Rubio against Schmidt's claims. He wrote that Rubio made it clear during his ABC News appearance that the balloon was symbolic of the larger situation involving China, adding that Rubio has been discussing concerns about China for years.

Schmidt served as a strategist for several high-profile Republicans, including Senator John McCain's presidential bid, but has since turned against the GOP during the Trump era.

Many experts have raised concerns about how the situation could further strain relations between the United States and China, which were already tense amid heightened Chinese action surrounding Taiwan and the Russia-Ukraine war.

Already, Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a trip aimed at quelling tensions between the two nations. China also criticized the U.S. for shooting the balloon down, saying it has "the right to take further actions in response."

Rubio took a more measured tone than many Republicans over the issue. Several of his colleagues called on Biden to order the military to shoot down the balloon as it hovered across the U.S., despite the risk that would pose to civilians on the ground.

Rubio said on This Week that he "recognizes" the damage shooting the balloon down would have caused on the ground, but that Biden should have been more transparent about his plans to handle the situation.