Updated Jan 8, 2024 - Politics & Policy

White House has no plans to oust defense secretary over hospitalization

Lloyd Austin

Lloyd Austin speaks during a meeting at the Pentagon in Nov. 2023. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The White House has no plans to fire Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin over the controversy surrounding his recent hospitalization, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Monday.

Why it matters: Even as the secrecy around Austin's hospitalization has spurred blowback from members of Congress, Kirby's words offer a strong vote of confidence in Austin from President Biden.

The latest: Austin resumed full duties of his office on Jan. 5, according to a Monday press release from the Defense Department.

  • He remained hospitalized Monday but is no longer in the intensive care unit, the Department of Defense said in a separate update Monday.
  • Austin is recovering but there is not yet a specific date for his release from the hospital, per the department.

The big picture: "The president's number one focus is on the secretary's recovery and he looks forward to having him back at the Pentagon as soon as possible," Kirby said during a press gaggle Monday, per a White House pool report.

  • Regarding Austin's future at the Pentagon, Kirby added that there is "no plan for anything other than for Secretary Austin to stay in the job."
  • White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated Biden's support for Austin during the gaggle, saying the president has "complete confidence" in him.

Catch up quick: Pentagon spokesperson Pat Ryder announced Friday evening that Austin had been admitted to Walter Reed hospital days before, on Jan. 1, "for complications following a recent elective medical procedure."

  • Subsequent reporting revealed that Biden and other administration officials were not told of the hospitalization for several days.
  • Kirby confirmed during the gaggle that neither the White House nor the National Security Council were aware of Austin's hospitalization until Thursday afternoon.

State of play: Some Republicans have called for Austin to testify, or even be dismissed, over the breakdown in communications illustrated by the incident.

  • Austin acknowledged the transparency concerns that had been incited by his hospitalization in a statement Saturday, saying he could have done a "better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed" and committing to doing better in the future.
  • Kirby said during the gaggle that Biden respected that Austin had taken ownership for the lack of transparency and that the episode would be a learning opportunity to examine the procedures around such hospitalizations.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with statements from the Pentagon on Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin resuming full duties and being released from ICU.

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