EXCLUSIVE: Several Republican senators are calling on Congress to exercise its oversight authority after a Russian fighter jet downed a U.S. drone over international waters earlier this week – an incident that has many worried about more direct conflict between the two superpowers as the Ukraine war enters its second year.
"We need a hearing on it. We've asked the Pentagon for hearing, of course, they're probably a little bit busy right now," Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., a member of the Armed Services Committee, told Fox News Digital this week.
When asked if he was concerned about Russian officials’ announcement that Moscow will try to retrieve the debris, Tuberville said, "Yeah, we should all be."
"The problem I have is… where it happened and why it happened. I mean… those questions need to be answered," the Alabama lawmaker said. "Very concerning that, number one, why were we there? And we say international waters, which is fine, but… we do have a war going on over there, we’ve got to be very careful."
Tuberville’s office clarified to Fox News Digital on Thursday that the senator was calling for a hearing in his own personal capacity and had reached out to the Pentagon for more details on the crash, but that they were not aware of one being planned. A Senate Armed Services aide confirmed, "The committee does not have plans for a hearing at this time."
Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., told Fox News Digital that he wanted to see a Congressional hearing called on the downed U.S. drone. (Caroline Brehman/Pool via REUTERS)
Committee Chair Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., told Fox News Digital that it is "certainly a concern" that Russia is attempting to retrieve the debris.
Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, also indicated support for hearings by telling Fox News Digital that Moscow officials need to know that American lawmakers "intend to exert oversight" on the incident.
U.S. officials released video of the incident on Thursday, which occurred on March 14, after Moscow denied that its planes were responsible for the drone’s demise. The video shows two Russian Su-27 jets and a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone flying over the Black Sea, when one of the jets appears to fly dangerously close to the unmanned aircraft before dumping jet fuel on it.
A Thursday statement from U.S. European Command read, "Russian Su-27s dumped fuel upon and struck the propeller of the MQ-9, causing U.S. forces to have to bring the MQ-9 down in international waters." Pentagon press secretary Pat Ryder called the Russian pilots' actions "unsafe" and "unprofessional," but that it was also "highly unlikely" that Moscow would glean anything useful from the drone debris.
Senator Bill Hagerty, a Republican from Tennessee, also called for congressional "oversight" of the incident. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Russia has, in turn, accused the U.S. of flying its drone provocatively close to its borders, but insisted it crashed without any collision with Moscow’s jets.
"I think that from a congressional perspective, the Russians need to know that we intend to exert oversight on the situation to make certain that America's interests are advanced at every turn. I don't think any of my colleagues intend to tolerate this sort of behavior on behalf of Russia, and that we take… this act extremely seriously," Hagerty told Fox News Digital.
Hagerty, who was U.S. ambassador to Japan during the Trump administration, also said it was "extremely concerning" that Russia intends to recover the drone’s debris. U.S. officials have said that mounting their own recovery would be very difficult given the deep waters where it crashed.
A Russian navy ship of the Black Sea Fleet patrols an area of the Mariupol Sea Port in Mariupol, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People's Republic, eastern Ukraine, Monday, May 30, 2022. (AP Photo)
"This is top drawer U.S. technology that's been downed there… this is not a partisan comment. I think everybody here is quite upset about what has taken place, and the aggressive posture that Russia has assumed, I think, should be condemned by us in the strong fashion that’s possible," Hagerty said, adding that he was displeased with the Pentagon’s "tepid" response.
Fox News Digital did not hear back from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on whether a hearing was being planned. However, one senior Democrat on the committee, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., agreed that Congress needs to send a message to Russia.
"We have to make it clear that we will not be bullied, that we will protect our national security interests, but we have no interest in escalating the conflict," he told Fox News Digital.
Elizabeth Elkind is a politics reporter for Fox News Digital.