Republican officials are expressing outrage over the Biden administration’s Department of Defense “lack of transparency” after the revelation it hid the fact Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was hospitalized for days, raising serious queries about the maintenance of security during that period.
According to GOP members, the Pentagon’s Friday evening announcement that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, 70, was admitted to the intensive care unit four days prior — on New Year’s Day — suggested a violation of the public’s right to information.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was hospitalized following complications from a 'recent elective medical procedure,' the Pentagon said, but declined to say what that procedure was or what complications he suffered https://t.co/zOW9Z5qTDm pic.twitter.com/ee344ipF4L
— Reuters (@Reuters) January 7, 2024
According to a statement by Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, he was admitted following “complications” after a “recent elective medical procedure,” though the statement did not detail what procedure took place, or what complications arose.
5:23PM on a Friday afternoon and the Pentagon releases a brief statement that @SecDef Lloyd Austin has been hospitalized since New Year's Day – 4 days. Pentagon Press secretary MGEN Pat Ryder held a full press briefing Thursday and said nothing about this https://t.co/UGrI8XAhey pic.twitter.com/Hyxt1KJonO
— Chris Cavas (@CavasShips) January 6, 2024
Sent out close to 6:00 p.m. ET, the statement read:
On the evening of January 1, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for complications following a recent elective medical procedure. He is recovering well and is expecting to resume his full duties today. At all times, the Deputy Secretary of Defense was prepared to act for and exercise the powers of the Secretary, if required.
The delayed announcement of the retired four-star U.S. Army General’s hospitalization by the Pentagon prompted inquiries about the wait and questions about the length of Austin’s recovery time, with Republicans blasting the Biden administration for its actions.
Senator Tommy Tuberville (R) of Alabama railed against the administration’s irresponsibility, insisting he would not trust its members with a “potato gun.”
“So, @SECDEF is in the ICU and the Deputy SECDEF is lounging on the beach in Puerto Rico. The Armed Services Committee didn’t know, Congress didn’t know, the media didn’t know, the American people didn’t know…AND @POTUS DIDN’T KNOW,” he wrote.
“Ukraine-Russia, Israel-Hamas, China-Taiwan, Yemen, Iran, North Korea, and an open Northern and Southern border…our country is ran by a group of people I wouldn’t trust with a potato gun,” he added.
So, @SECDEF is in the ICU and the Deputy SECDEF is lounging on the beach in Puerto Rico. The Armed Services Committee didn't know, Congress didn't know, the media didn't know, the American people didn't know…AND @POTUS DIDN'T KNOW.
Ukraine-Russia, Israel-Hamas, China-Taiwan,… https://t.co/xzGyo3eylk
— Tommy Tuberville (@TTuberville) January 7, 2024
In additional posts, he asserted that the Biden administration is “pathetic” and “much, much worse” than imagined.
As bad as you think this Administration is…you're wrong. It's worse. Much, much worse. https://t.co/ZKm2sV4qA7
— Tommy Tuberville (@TTuberville) January 7, 2024
“Inexcusable and dangerous for Secretary Austin to not inform the public – MUCH LESS THE COMMANDER IN CHIEF – he was hospitalized for multiple days,” wrote Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL), who questioned whether the combatant commanders and service secretaries were aware of the new chain of command, as well as who communicated with the National Security Council (NSC) about threats to U.S. troops in the Middle East.
Waltz, who served as a Special Forces commander in Afghanistan, is a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, House Armed Services Committee, and House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“I don’t know whether it’s more concerning that the chain of command literally didn’t exist for multiple days or the White House apparently communicates so little with the pentagon that nobody noticed the Defense Secretary missing at a time of two major wars!” he added.
Inexcusable and dangerous for Secretary Austin to not inform the public – MUCH LESS THE COMMANDER IN CHIEF – he was hospitalized for multiple days.
— Rep. Mike Waltz (@michaelgwaltz) January 7, 2024
In a statement responding to the Defense Department’s failure to disclose the hospitalization, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) called on Austin to “address promptly the troubling report that the Department of Defense didn’t immediately notify President Biden or the National Security Council that he was hospitalized and unable to perform his duties.”
“The Secretary of Defense is the key link in the chain of command between the president and the uniformed military, including the nuclear chain of command, when the weightiest of decisions must be made in minutes,” he added, noting that if the report is confirmed, “there must be consequences for this shocking breakdown.”
— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) January 6, 2024
“We have a 15 minute warning time for nuclear attacks from Russia and China with the latest weapons. The SECDEF is vital in responding,” wrote Congressman Don Bacon (R-NE), an Air Force veteran and former military advisor.
“The failure to tell the WH that the SECDEF was in the ICU for 3 days is a failure in leadership,” he added. “We need corrections now.”
We have a 15 minute warning time for nuclear attacks from Russia and China with the latest weapons. The SECDEF is vital in responding. The failure to tell the WH that the SECDEF was in the ICU for 3 days is a failure in leadership. We need corrections now. https://t.co/dojMnoof53
— Rep. Don Bacon 🇺🇸 (@RepDonBacon) January 7, 2024
“The SECDEF was in the ICU and his UnderSecretary was on vacation, and the White House did not know for 3 days. Nuclear Command and Control is the #1 defense priority, and it failed here,” he wrote in another post, as he called for “transparency and accountability” on the matter.
Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, an Air Force veteran and the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, deemed “unacceptable” that the Department of Defense “deliberately withheld the Secretary of Defense’s medical condition for days.”
My statement on Department of Defense lack of transparency regarding chain of command: https://t.co/D9sWZn3CI8
— Senator Roger Wicker (@SenatorWicker) January 7, 2024
According to Wicker, the Department’s failure to follow legal notification procedures about a National Command Authority’s incapacitation raises serious questions about transparency and “erodes trust” in the Biden Administration.
“This episode further erodes trust in the Biden Administration, which has repeatedly failed to inform the public in a timely fashion about critical events such as the Chinese spy balloon and the withdrawal from Afghanistan,” he explained.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) noted her concerns over the lack of transparency regarding Secretary Austin’s hospitalization especially amidst current “global instability.”
“During this time of global instability, situational awareness of our country’s top national security decision makers is absolutely essential,” she wrote. “I am troubled that President Biden, his national security staff, and congressional defense committees were kept in the dark about Secretary Austin’s hospitalization.”
“The lack of transparency by this administration is unacceptable,” she added.
During this time of global instability, situational awareness of our country’s top national security decision makers is absolutely essential. I am troubled that President Biden, his national security staff, and congressional defense committees were kept in the dark about…
— Shelley Moore Capito (@SenCapito) January 7, 2024
“At a time of global conflict and significant military threats, this is both outrageous and unacceptable,” wrote Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY). “That the Commander in Chief and the White House were kept in the dark about the Defense Secretary’s illness and hospitalization is disturbing.”
At a time of global conflict and significant military threats, this is both outrageous and unacceptable. That the Commander in Chief and the White House were kept in the dark about the Defense Secretary’s illness and hospitalization is disturbing. https://t.co/qpYLGxsgjW
— Mike Lawler (@lawler4ny) January 7, 2024
“Sec. Austin’s failure to alert POTUS of his hospitalization is a dereliction of duty that deserves removal from his job as Secretary of Defense,” wrote Arkansas Congressman Rick Crawford
(R). “The fact that so few had any situational awareness is a slap in the face to the American people and our ally’s across the world.”
Sec. Austin’s failure to alert POTUS of his hospitalization is a dereliction of duty that deserves removal from his job as Secretary of Defense. The fact that so few had any situational awareness is a slap in the face to the American people and our ally’s across the world.
— Rep. Rick Crawford (@RepRickCrawford) January 7, 2024
“Unacceptable & dangerous,” wrote U.S. Navy veteran Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL). “@SecDef is a key member of the U.S. national security team & has a critical role in our most sensitive military & nuclear protocols.”
“Sec. Austin must come to SASC immediately, explain why this happened & who helped keep it from our nation’s leaders,” he added.
Unacceptable & dangerous. @SecDef is a key member of the U.S. national security team & has a critical role in our most sensitive military & nuclear protocols.
Sec. Austin must come to SASC immediately, explain why this happened & who helped keep it from our nation’s leaders. https://t.co/728WJ30pxs
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) January 6, 2024
“@POTUS didn’t know that his Secretary of Defense was hospitalized until four days later. That’s how safe America is right now,” lamented Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN).
— Rep. Tim Burchett (@RepTimBurchett) January 7, 2024
The U.S. military is currently involved in several crises overseas — providing support for Israel against the U.S.-designated terror organization Hamas, trying to deter Iran-backed Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, and providing advice and support to Ukraine in its war with Russia.
The last update from the Pentagon on Austin’s activities came December 30, after a call he had with the Dutch Defense Minister.