US President Joe Biden has expressed continued support for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, despite criticism over the lack of transparency surrounding Austin’s recent hospitalization. The White House assured that there are no plans to remove Austin from his position.
The controversy emerged when it was revealed that Austin had been in the hospital for three days without notifying President Biden promptly. Austin, 70, underwent an elective medical procedure on December 22, returning home the next day. However, severe pain on January 1 led to his admission to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington DC.
The delay in informing Biden and the public about Austin’s health drew criticism, with leading Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, calling for his dismissal. Senior Democrats also expressed concern about the lack of transparency.
White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre acknowledged the “lack of transparency” but affirmed Austin’s retention of Biden’s confidence. John Kirby, the national security council spokesperson, emphasized that there are no plans for Austin to step down, and the President is focused on his health and recovery.
Austin’s chief of staff, Kelly Magsamen, being off sick with the flu, was cited as a reason for the delayed notification within the chain of command. A review of procedures will be conducted to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Despite being in hospital, Austin continued to fulfill his duties, with Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks assuming some responsibilities. Hicks, unaware of Austin’s health condition, only found out on January 4. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Charles Brown, was informed earlier, while the White House was notified on Thursday and Congress on Friday.
The incident has intensified calls for greater transparency about the health of top officials, especially given the critical role the Defense Secretary plays in national security. Austin’s commitment to doing better in informing the public has been acknowledged, but details about his medical condition remain undisclosed.