FBI to search Pence locations; Southwest COO to testify on flight cancellations: recap

Former Vice President Mike Pence's Indiana home and a Washington, D.C. office may soon be searched for additional classified records. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is monitoring a Chinese spy balloon that was spotted drifting over the northern United States - though China says it's not a spycraft.

Here's what else is going on in politics:

Stay in the conversation on politics: Sign up for the OnPolitics newsletter

Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks to guests at the Republican Jewish Coalition Annual Leadership Meeting on November 18, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks to guests at the Republican Jewish Coalition Annual Leadership Meeting on November 18, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Biden to travel to Wisconsin and Florida following SOTU speech

Following the State of the Union Tuesday, President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and cabinet secretaries plan to "blitz the country" to highlight programs and projects made possible by legislation he pushed through Congress and signed.

On Wednesday, Biden will travel to Madison, Wisconsin, to "discuss how his economic plan is creating good-paying, union jobs and delivering real results for the American people," according to an advisory from the White House. The following day, he will travel to Tampa, Florida, – a state with disproportionately high percentage of seniors – to promote ways of strengthening Social Security and Medicare.

It's traditional for presidents to barnstorm the country following the State of the Union, where he's expected to emphasize his agenda and build on promises made in his speech.

- Maureen Groppe

Southwest Airlines COO to testify before Senate Commerce Committee

Following flight cancellations that left thousands of passengers stranded across American airports over the holidays, Southwest Airlines Chief Operating Officer Andrew Watterson will testify before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation next week.

The hearing follows massive cancellations from the airline during the holidays that affected over 15,000 flights.

Other witnesses include Captain Casey A. Murray, the president of Southwest Airlines Pilots Association; Paul Hudson, the president of Flyers’ Rights; Sharon Pinkerton, the senior vice president for legislative and regulatory policy at Airlines for America; and Dr. Clifford Winston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

- Rachel Looker

More: After meltdown, Southwest cancels hundreds of flights into the new year

Secretary of State Antony Blinken postpones China trip, citing spy balloon

Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed an imminent trip to China because a Chinese surveillance balloon drifting over the northern U.S. is a "clear violation" of sovereignty and international law, senior state department officials said Friday.

Blinken had been set to leave for China Friday night, though the trip had not been officially announced. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Blinken will reschedule the trip when conditions are right.

China denied that the balloon is a spycraft, calling it  a “civilian airship” that blew off course. U.S. officials refute that and have considered shooting it down.

– Maureen Groppe, Tom Vanden Brook, Ella Lee

GOP Indiana Rep. Spartz won't seek reelection

GOP Rep. Victoria Spartz of Indiana announced Friday she won't seek reelection to the House of Representatives or her home state's open Senate seat in 2024.

Spartz, a Republican from Noblesville representing Indiana's 5th Congressional District, had been considering a run at the Senate seat that Mike Braun will vacate to run for governor next year. Spartz' Indiana colleague in the House, U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, announced his candidacy for the Senate seat several weeks ago.

The seat is unlikely to flip to Democrats next year as it is considered solidly Republican by the Cook Political Report.

More: Victoria Spartz won't seek office after term ends

China says balloon flying over Montana is not spycraft

China denied Friday that a balloon flying over the United States is a spycraft but a “civilian airship” that blew off course.

The airship is used for meteorological and other research, the Chinese government said in a statement in which it expressed regret for its “unintended entry” into U.S. airspace.

U.S. officials maintain that it is a Chinese spy balloon and have considered shooting it down.

– Maureen Groppe, Tom Vanden Brook

More on the spy balloon: Blinken postpones China trip amid spy balloon row; US officials scramble to get rid of it

Rubio: China ‘bigger and stronger adversary’ than Soviet Union during Cold War

In the aftermath of a Chinese spy balloon found in American airspace, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on Friday urged America to “wake up” to the threat the Asian power poses.

Rubio, who is vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence select committee, said that China is a “bigger and stronger” adversary than the Soviet Union was during the Cold War, citing not military strength but also industrial, technological and economic power.

"The most important thing we need to do now is wake up and finally, for those who are still resistant to this notion, understand that China is a geopolitical competitor and adversary, the first we've had since the end of the Cold War," Rubio said.

“We need to readjust everything we do in this country to that reality," he added.

- Ella Lee

China, US tensions rise over suspected Chinese spy balloon

The discovery of a Chinese surveillance balloon spotted over American airspace has further strained already tense relations between Beijing and Washington

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said China has “no intention of violating the territory and airspace of any sovereign country” and urged calm while the facts are established.

The balloon’s appearance adds to national security concerns among American lawmakers over China’s influence in the U.S., ranging from the prevalence of TikTok to purchases of American farmland. Other issues – like Taiwan and the South China Sea, human rights in China’s western Xinjiang region and China’s support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – have also increased tensions.

– Ella Lee, Associated Press

Chinese spy balloon: Chinese spy balloon spotted in American skies, Pentagon says; US weighed shooting it down

Montana lawmakers slam Biden on Chinese spy balloon

Chinese spy balloon spotted in US airspace
Chinese spy balloon spotted in US airspace

After a Chinese spy balloon was spotted drifting over Montana airspace, lawmakers in the state are demanding answers from the Biden administration over its implications for state and national security.

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin requesting a “full security briefing", raising concern that Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base and U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile fields were the target of an intelligence collection mission.

Montana’s Republican governor, Greg Gianforte, said he is “deeply troubled by the constant stream of alarming developments for our national security.” Montana Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke called the balloon a provocation, urging Biden to “Shoot. It. Down.”

The decision not to shoot down the balloon was made due to concerns that debris could injure Americans on the ground or destroy property, a senior Defense Department official said Thursday.

– Ella Lee

Chinese spy balloon latest: Blinken postpones China trip

Pentagon: Chinese spy balloon spotted in American skies

A Chinese spy balloon has been spotted drifting over the northern United States, and Pentagon officials have considered shooting it down, Defense Department officials said late Thursday.

The decision not to shoot down the balloon – which was over Montana when the U.S. considered destroying it – was made because of concerns that debris could injure Americans on the ground or destroy property, according to a senior Defense Department official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

The balloon is designed for surveillance, but is likely unable to collect more information than is available to spy satellites, the official said. It’s not the first time Chinese spy balloons have flown over the United States, according to the official.

-Tom Vanden Brook, Ella Lee

Paul Ryan on Trump: Former House speaker says he would not back Trump, if ex-president is GOP's 2024 nominee

Paul Ryan: Trump loses elections and 'even diehard Trump supporters know this'

Donald Trump and Paul Ryan in 2017.
Donald Trump and Paul Ryan in 2017.

Former GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan is doubling down on his belief that former President Donald Trump is the wrong choice for Republicans in 2024.

Poor results in the November midterms caused friction within the GOP, resulting in the infighting on display during the House speaker election, Ryan said in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, part of the USA TODAY Network. Many losing 2022 candidates, he added, were backed by Trump.

“I think people will move past (Trump) because we want to win,” Ryan said. “The evidence is inescapable that we just lose elections with Trump. And I think even diehard Trump supporters know this.”

-Lawrence Andrea, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Ella Lee

New Jersey Republican councilwoman shot to death. What we know

Investigators continue to search for clues in the violent slaying of a New Jersey councilwoman, whose shooting death remains a mystery and has drawn international attention.

Sayreville Republican Councilwoman Eunice Dwumfour was shot to death outside of her home Wednesday evening and was found dead and alone in her car by police. A 30-year-old married mother of a 12-year-old daughter, Dwumfour had been elected to the council as a Republican in November 2021 and served just over one year.

Police are working with FBI officials on the case and have revealed no suspects or motive for the killing. They declined to state if a suspect has been identified or if the public is in danger.

-Asbury Park Press staff, Ella Lee

North Korea warns of 'overwhelming nuclear force'

North Korea said it is prepared to respond to U.S. military moves with "the most overwhelming nuclear force," and warned that the expansion of U.S. military exercises with South Korea is pushing tensions to an "extreme red line,"

The statement by Pyongyang’s Foreign Ministry came in response to comments by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who said Tuesday in Seoul that the United States would increase its deployment of advanced military assets to the Korean Peninsula, including fighter jets and aircraft carriers, as it strengthens joint training and operational planning with South Korea.

South Korea’s security jitters have risen since North Korea test-fired dozens of missiles in 2022, including potentially nuclear-capable ones designed to strike targets in South Korea and the U.S. mainland.

--The Associated 

Classified documents much more than a Biden, Pence, Trump problem, analysts say

It’s not just former presidents and vice presidents who have been caught mishandling classified and even top-secret documents, according to lawmakers and security analysts. And it’s not just those who have left office but potentially millions of people who are currently working in sensitive positions that require a U.S. national security clearance.

“The universe of individuals who not only have access to classified information in one form or another but who have at different times mishandled it spreads across the entire gamut of the federal workforce and of cleared officials in the judiciary and Congress,” said Bradley Moss, a Washington, D.C. national security lawyer who handles mishandling of documents cases.

Moss and others interviewed by USA TODAY estimated that there are more than four million people with security clearances, including those in and out of government.  In 2017, the Director of National Intelligence put the number at nearly 3 million people, including more than 1.6 million with access to confidential or secret information and another 1.2 million with access to top secret information.

– Josh Meyer

FBI expected to search Pence locations for govt records

Former Vice President Mike Pence signs copies of his new book after speaking to an audience at Garden Sanctuary Church of God in Rock Hill, S.C. on Dec. 6.
Former Vice President Mike Pence signs copies of his new book after speaking to an audience at Garden Sanctuary Church of God in Rock Hill, S.C. on Dec. 6.

Federal authorities and representatives of Mike Pence have been discussing voluntary searches of the former vice president’s Indiana home and a Washington, D.C., office for additional classified records, according to media reports.

The anticipated action comes after the FBI searched President Joe Biden’s Delaware vacation home Wednesday, the third Biden location where authorities have sought additional government records.

No classified documents were recovered at Biden’s Rehoboth Beach residence, but the FBI took some handwritten notes dating to his time as vice president, the president's lawyer said.

Plans for a Pence-related search, first reported Thursday by the Wall Street Journal, follow the discovery last month of a small number of documents bearing classified markings at the former president’s Indiana home.

CNN also reported that authorities are expected to search a Washington office linked to Pence.

– Kevin Johnson

From office to beach house: Timeline of investigation into Joe Biden classified documents

House GOP launches another investigation

The House Judiciary Committee is deepening its investigation of political bias with a new focus on Charles McGonigal, a former FBI special agent who pleaded not guilty last week to charges of money laundering and violating U.S. sanctions in connection to a Russian oligarch.

In a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray on Thursday, Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., requested documents, personnel records and communications related to McGonigal by Feb. 16.

McGonigal, who led the FBI’s counterintelligence division in New York for 22 years until 2018, is accused of working for Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

– Candy Woodall

Law barring guns for people with domestic violence restraining orders is unconstitutional, court rules

A federal appeals court Thursday ruled that a law barring people who are the subject of a domestic violence restraining order from possessing a firearm is unconstitutional in a case likely headed to the Supreme Court.

A three-judge panel of the Louisiana-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit said the federal law may have been based on “salutary policy goals meant to protect vulnerable people in our society,” but that it still conflicts with the Second Amendment.

The ruling from the judges – two of whom were appointed by former President Donald Trump and a third by former President Ronald Reagan – is a result of the Supreme Court’s major guns ruling last year, in which a 6-3 majority said that in order to pass constitutional muster a gun regulation must be consistent with the nation's “historical tradition of firearm regulation."

– John Fritze

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: FBI eyes Pence locations search, Southwest COO to testify: recap