Congressman Adam Smith (D-Washington) believes there are no aliens flying over the United States, President Joe Biden is doing a good job, the Health One unit should continue to expand, and Republicans are going to push us to the brink when it comes to the federal deficit.
Smith represents the state’s 9th district. He serves as Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee. Smith also formerly chaired the Subcommittee on Air and Land Forces (ALF), which had jurisdiction over all Army and nearly all Air Force acquisition programs.
Smith has also previously served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Smith sat down with KIRO Newsradio’s Dave Ross and covered a myriad of subjects. Below is an edited version of the interview. The audio of the full interview is at the bottom of the story.
The most recent UFOs were NOT aliens
Dave Ross: First of all, since you’re privy to all the secret briefings, can you assure us on your word of honor that there are no aliens involved in the balloon deal?
Rep. Adam Smith: It’s funny. I was at an event last night where I offered precisely that assurance. And then one of the people said, ‘Yeah, but you wouldn’t tell us if it was the outcome.’ We’ll put it this way. If there are actual alien craft out there, I doubt it’s going to come in the form of a balloon. I mean, how would they get it here in the first place?
Ross: Well, it just seems to me if they were alien balloons, they’re pretty lame. Alien balloons didn’t even fire back. They didn’t offer any resistance and didn’t try to escape.
Smith: Now, I can assure you, it’s not aliens. You know, we need to get more precise answers on what exactly it is. But it’s within the known universe.
Finding more balloons over the US a result of radar adjustments
Ross: Let’s talk China. The balloon thing is just weird to me. Now, I know these other three balloons were not the same as the Chinese balloon. But let’s just talk about China’s program. This has been going on for a while and it looks like a fairly sophisticated payload.
Smith: The main thing to remember here is radars are not perfect. You don’t see everything necessarily, in our system. The NORAD system in our radar and early detection system was aimed at detecting missiles and jet planes. That’s what we were looking for. So we had a blank space, an opening, and our domain awareness was the way the NORAD commander put it or something like that.
I think China became aware of and attempted to exploit by sending these slow-moving balloons at extremely high altitudes that we normally wouldn’t be looking at. And the reports have come out that they’ve gone back and tracked some of these patterns and found that over the course of the years, these things had moved into our airspace, and we hadn’t seen them. Well, now we’re looking. And that’s why there are so many more sightings because now we’re looking into that space.
We don’t know for sure that these last three came from China seems kind of likely. And weather balloons get sent up a whole bunch – [there are] hundreds of weather balloons going up. But you file a plan, you let the FAA know that you’re sending them up. And these three were three that weren’t filed with anybody we didn’t know about.
Ross: So does China get punished for this? But they still don’t admit doing it. And they have now said that the U.S. does the same?
Smith: Well, they admit that the first balloon was theirs, as they claim it was a weather balloon when clearly it was not. And also, we don’t send balloons over the Chinese mainland, we’ve made that very clear.
China’s just sort of throwing that out as a lie to try to distract people from what’s going on. But I’ll take a step back for a second. And I think we need to put this in perspective and not overreact. China spies on us. We spy on China. Yes, I’m not exactly breaking news here on that. Now, the precise details of that I know more than some because they have access to classified information that we’re not sharing.
I don’t think we should lose our minds over the fact that China’s trying to spy on us. We’ve known that for some time. And like I said, we try to spy on them as well. I think we need to try to protect ourselves. So if we identify one of these things, yes, take it out. Don’t let them do it if you can prevent it, but it’s no cause to have a larger conflict.
The biggest thing we need right now is dialogue with China. You know, we’ve tried to reach out. I know, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mike Milley has tried to reach out. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin tried to reach out and China doesn’t want to talk. We need to have dialogue.
Ross: They need us to get their economy on track.
Smith: They need us. We need them. And look, this is one of my biggest messages out there. I know we can get excited about the bad things that China is doing. China is going to be a global power for decades. We are going to be a global power for decades.
We have to figure out how to coexist in this world with that reality. And that’s what I’m really working towards. How can we make sure that China and us both [make sure that] the world [is] in fact big enough for the both of us? We have to make sure of that.
President Biden is healthy and capable of doing a good job
Ross: Does Joe Biden have a challenge in running again because of his age?
Smith: I think, clearly he does. I thought the State of the Union was fine. He’s doing the job. Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is older. Everything I see shows me that Joe Biden is healthy and capable of doing the job. But yeah, it’s something you got to think about. You got to think about your health. Talk to his doctor. I mean, you can like him, dislike him, agree with policy, disagree with policies. He’s doing the job. Personally, I think he’s doing a pretty good job. Look at where we’re at as a country. But I certainly think he’s more than proven that at this age, he’s capable of doing it.
Ross: I think he shot down more balloons than any other president. Right?
Smith: If we shoot down the third balloon, we should win a giant stuffed animal.
Seattle’s Health One unit gets federal dollars
Ross: I wanted to ask you about your visit here, which included a ride along with something called Health One. Describe what it is because it’s a different kind of 911 response, right?
[Editor’s Note: Health One is the Seattle Fire Department’s Mobile Integrated Health response unit. Launched in 2019, it is designed to respond to individuals immediately in their moment of need and help them navigate the situation - whether they need medical care, mental health care, shelter, or other social services. Health One is a multidisciplinary team, with firefighters and case managers each bringing unique skills and approaches to the scene. The goal of the Health One program is to reduce the impact of non-emergent calls on Seattle Fire’s Operations Division, and to better connect individuals in need with appropriate care and services.]
Smith: Yeah, it’s a response unit that works with the fire department. So there are a couple of firefighters who are part of it. But they also have social workers and mental health specialists working with them.
And their job is to respond to those calls that have come in from people who could benefit from a social worker or mental health support. It’s the problem of law enforcement being called in to deal with issues that aren’t crimes. So they’re identified from the calls that come in primarily through 911…
Ross: These crises don’t necessarily need armed police to respond. So how do you choose that option when calling 911?
Smith: You don’t choose that option. The 911 callers know how to sift through that and direct it to where it needs to go. And a lot of the calls that Health One responds to aren’t immediate. They aren’t necessarily emergencies. They get a list of people from law enforcement, firefighters, or other people who encountered someone in crisis. And then they will put that information into Health One, to go out and respond to do a basic wellness check on someone, you know, maybe it’s an elderly person who lives on their own and isn’t able to take care of themselves or someone who is suicidal, experiencing a mental health challenge. So it’s not necessarily an immediate response…
Ross: I’m looking at some of the case histories here. And of course, they always print the positive ones. And I’m, you know, I’m happy to read those, I’m sure there are some that don’t go so well. But I mean, in a number of cases, they can actually get a homeless person off the streets by finding out the reason that they ended up in the tent. And sometimes it’s just a matter of making a rent payment or providing some medical care that [was] lacking.
Smith: They can connect them. And that’s the good news in our region here in the Seattle/King County area. There are a lot of nonprofit companies out there that are providing a variety of services, like housing, for people who have food insecurity or people who need health care. There are a bunch of different organizations that provide services for people in crisis. But you have to connect those people to those organizations and the folks at Health One, they know those groups. We stopped by a couple of them yesterday when we were doing the ride alongs.
Ross: So this is now an established option for a 911 call. The dispatcher will make the decision on whether you need the police or the fire department.
Smith: Or Health One which is connected to the fire department but a different service. Now the key point here is Health One is rather small. They work five days a week. They can only respond to so many incidents. This is something that we really need to expand throughout the King County area.
Ross: Well, you could provide federal money for that as a member of the United States Congress.
Smith: I did. Actually, we got a grant directly to Health One. I call them earmarks, but we’re supposed to call them congressionally directed spending these days. Whatever you want to call it, it was a chunk of money from the federal government to help Health One.
We will look over the cliff before we raise the national debt ceiling
Ross: So the next step in the whole budget process is, I guess, for the Republicans to come through with a budget plan before we have to default on the debt. Do you know of any Republican plan that is about to be unveiled?
Smith: Now it doesn’t exist. And that’s a key point that I want everyone to understand. It is the Republican Party that is refusing to negotiate over the debt ceiling. Now, the Republicans have made a lot of hay out of the fact that President Biden said he wouldn’t negotiate on the debt ceiling. Now what President Biden meant, is he will not negotiate on the U.S. paying our bills, okay? It’s not an option.
We have to pay our creditors in order to maintain our credit rating. Alright? And we Democrats put out a plan for doing that, which is to raise the debt ceiling, pay the bills, okay. The Republicans said they don’t like that they want to cut spending. Alright, that’s fine, we’re gonna have that conversation. But they have not put any plan on the table to this day.
Several months into this conversation, they have not identified one single solitary thing that they would cut. They don’t have a plan. We’ve offered a plan. They’ve offered nothing. So, therefore, they’re the ones who are refusing to negotiate. If you’re not putting anything on the table, you’re not negotiating. And I don’t see any prospect that they’re going to anytime soon.
Ross: Well, the president during his State of the Union address basically got the Republican Party to commit not to touching Medicare and Social Security. The problem with that is that’s where half the budget goes.
Smith: Two-thirds of the budget as a matter of fact.
Ross: So I mean, I keep hearing, you know, talking about waste, fraud and abuse. And if you look at the pie chart for the budget, you could basically dissolve the entire federal government in Washington D.C., and that’s like, I don’t know, 2% or something ridiculous. So you have to touch the Defense Department budget, you’d have to do Medicare and Medicaid. So you’d have to raise revenue. There are so many things they don’t want to do. They just want to raise revenue.
Smith: Let me address a couple of key things about this one. I’ve been hearing this for the entire time I’ve been an elected official. There is not a line item in the budget. That is called waste, fraud, and abuse. It is a challenge. And you are not going to eliminate those things from human endeavors. We can do better. And we absolutely should.
We have made a series of decisions over the course of the last 20 years. And by we I mean, the entire country. You poll people, they want a balanced budget. They don’t want to cut anything and they don’t want to raise taxes, okay, that doesn’t add up. No, we’ve made a decision that we’re not going to make those cuts, we’re not going to raise that revenue, we’re going to run a deficit.
And to date, we’ve made that work, we can argue about how long that’s gonna last. But right now, to simply stop paying our bills and defaulting and crashing the economy is not a realistic plan. We should talk about budgets, we should talk about fiscal responsibility, and we should pay our bills.
Ross: So do you wanna make any predictions? Are we going to come to default before this is finally resolved?
Smith: Well, you know, I have a prediction on that. I like to say, I’m not in the prediction business, I’m trying to solve problems. But I would say, given the intransigence of the Republican Party on this, I suspect, we’re going to come really close and step over the line, and we’re going to have a week or two where we’re scrambling before it finally becomes obvious that we have to raise the debt ceiling.
Because they’ve started themselves down a path that there’s no exit from, you know, they were not willing to put a spending cut plan on the table, and they’re not willing to raise the debt ceiling without a spinning bucket plan that they’re not prepared to offer.
Every day that we don’t raise the debt ceiling adds a layer of uncertainty into our economy. That hurts us badly. It gets worse as we get closer.
Republicans in Congress want to limit support for Ukraine
Ross: I want to ask questions in your role as the ranking member and former chairman of the Armed Services Committee. So we’ve got a number of things going on. And one of them is arming Ukraine. And I’m curious to know, how serious the new Republican Congress is about limiting our commitment because there seems to be a number of people on the Republican side who think that we’ve gone too far.
Smith: I think it’s going to be a challenge. And the good news is the overwhelming majority of Republicans strongly support Ukraine. And in many cases, they want to send even more weapons and be even more aggressive about it than President Biden does. Certainly, that’s the case for Mike Rogers, who is now the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Most of the key Republicans are strong supporters of Ukraine. The problem and as we witnessed in the 15 votes to elect a Speaker. A very small group can be very disruptive. Who knows what the small group of 15 or 20 Republicans who oppose Ukrainian aid could potentially cut it off?
The worry is that the minority could override the will of the majority and block support in the future. The other piece of good news is, we passed a substantial chunk of money at the end of last year. $45 billion, and knock on wood, the thinking is that will last the year. And then we’ll see where we’re at.
Ross: But we know that a new Russian defensive is coming. It’s happening right now. Tanks have been supplied. But Ukraine keeps coming back, the defense minister says we want fighter jets, right, and you’re not going to provide fighter jets.
Smith: I don’t know if we’re going to provide them or not. It is not the most important thing right now. The tanks and the ammunition and also information systems, radars, particularly surface-to-air missiles for missile defense and defend against jets. That’s what’s really kept Ukraine in the fight, making sure that we can get that supply of ammunition to them and all those key areas going forward.
The problem with fighter jets is the Russians haven’t been able to use fighter attack aircraft in this fight very often. Because air defenses are so good, they get shot down. And the same would happen with Ukrainian fighter jets as well. Now, at some point in the future fighter jets absolutely could be part of providing security assurances to Ukraine, and we may give them to Ukraine.
We’re wrestling with that right now. But no one has convinced me that they’re crucial to the fight in this particular moment.
Listen to the full interview
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