Updated Feb 29, 2024 - Politics & Policy

House panel grills Secretary Austin about secret hospitalization

Lloyd Austin

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testifies during a House hearing on Feb. 29. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin faced a barrage of questions Thursday from the House Armed Services Committee about the lack of transparency over his January hospitalization.

Why it matters: The initial secrecy around Austin's hospitalization sparked bipartisan blowback and calls for his resignation for keeping the White House and Congress in the dark.

  • Republicans on the panel hammered Austin for the episode as the hearing opened Thursday.
  • "Our adversaries should fear us," said Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.). "What you've done is embarrass us."

State of play: Austin has since taken full responsibility for mishandling the situation.

  • The Pentagon on Monday released an unclassified summary of a review of Pentagon staff's handling of Austin's hospitalization. It found that there was no "indication of ill intent or an attempt to obfuscate."
  • Yet the review included "no explanation of why the President and his staff were left in the dark," House Armed Services Committee Chair Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said in his opening remarks.
  • "We're here today to determine why the President was not immediately informed of your incapacitation," Rogers added.

In his opening remarks, Austin said: "We did have a breakdown in notifications during my January stay at Walter Reed."

  • Austin stressed repeatedly during the hearing that there was no lapse in authorities or in command and control at the Pentagon during his hospitalization.
  • He added that the Department of Defense is taking steps to ensure such a breakdown would never happen again.
  • "I never told anyone not to inform the president, White House or anyone else about my hospitalization," Austin said.

Catch up quick: Austin was hospitalized in early January after complications from a procedure to treat prostate cancer.

Editor's note: This story was updated with details from the hearing.

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