‘Unacceptable!’: House Republicans Torch Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin Over Unannounced, Undisclosed Absence From Duty

During a House hearing Thursday, House Republican lawmakers blasted Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, calling his unannounced absence last month “unacceptable” and “embarrassing.”

The House Armed Services Committee held a full committee hearing on the lack of transparency surrounding Austin’s absence from duty last month. Austin’s testimony before the committee was limited to two hours due to his ongoing health issues.

On New Year’s Day,  Austin, 70, suffered a medical emergency related to prostate cancer and was taken by ambulance to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center where he was admitted to the hospital’s critical care unit.  Joe Biden was not apprised of Austin’s health crisis until three-days later. The Defense Secretary’s lack of transparency has drawn bi-partisan criticism and internal reviews at the Pentagon, USA Today noted.

Austin and his staff sought to downplay his illness and hospitalization from its early days. He had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in early December, underwent surgery Dec. 22 and a staffer asked emergency medical personnel not to use sirens and lights when the ambulance picked him up at his home, according to a recording of the 911 call.

On January 10, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, launched a formal congressional investigation into Austin’s hospitalization, demanding a “detailed account” of his stay and how he communicated his absence to Pentagon and Biden administration officials.

Austin admitted that he was not transparent about his hospitalization at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

“We did have a breakdown in notifications during my January stay at Walter Reed,” he said. “That is, sharing my location and why I was there. And back in December, I should have promptly informed the president, my team, Congress, and the American people about my cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment.”

“We did not handle this right,” Austin added. “I did not handle this right.”

In his defense, Austin argued that he had transferred his authority to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, and she had maintained control of military.

“There was never any lapse in authorities or in command and control,” he insisted. However, Hicks was reportedly vacationing in Puerto Rico at the time and was not informed about his hospitalization until two days after she was supposed to take over his duties.

In his opening statement Thursday, Rogers blasted Austin for failing to notify the White House of his hospitalization, amid turmoil the Middle East. “It’s totally unacceptable,” Rogers said. “Even the Deputy Secretary, the person to whom your powers were transferred didn’t know that you were in the hospital,” he noted.

“Our forces conducted a pre-authorized strike on an Iranian-backed militia in Iraq during this period,” Rogers said. “Had something gone wrong with that strike, or worse, if there was an attack on the United States, precious time would have been wasted while the President sought in vain to find his Defense Secretary.”

“The chain of command doesn’t work when the commander-in-chief doesn’t know who to call,” Rogers declared.

The Alabama congressman also revealed that Austin had informed the committee that he wasn’t the one who decided to withhold the information from the White House and demanded to know who that person was.

On Monday, the Pentagon issued a report on the matter that did not recommend any disciplinary measures. The report concluded that there was no “ill intent” or obfuscation in delaying notification of Austin’s incapacitation.

“We were led to believe your 30-day internal review would shed light on the matter” Rogers said. “But it includes no explanation of why the President and his staff were left in the dark.”

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), who serves in the United States Navy Reserve as a Supply Corps officer, scorched Austin for “embarrassing” the country.

“Our adversaries should fear us, and you have embarrassed us,” Banks said. “Who will be held responsible for this,” he demanded. “Do you usually go days without talking to the commander-in-chief?” he continued. “Either the president is that aloof or you are irrelevant—which one is it?” he asked.

Austin replied: “The president is not aloof!”

“Are you surprised he [Joe Biden] did not call for your resignation?” Banks asked.

Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) a Colonel in the National Guard and a combat-decorated Green Beret, argued that if truck drivers and bartenders have to tell their bosses when they miss work, the Defense Secretary should too.

“This is about judgment, and poor judgment,” Waltz said. “My teenage daughter knows to tell her supervisor if she’s not going to work.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) pressed Austin to explain what disciplinary actions would a junior service member face if they had failed to properly notify their chain of command and failed to report to duty.

“If a service member was in the hospital, then I think the chain of command would be concerned as to why they were in the hospital, and make sure they were doing the right thing and taking care of their families,” Austin responded.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) pointed out the hypocrisy of Austin’s pleas for mercy and forgiveness when he “REFUSED to give that same grace to the 8,600 service members he kicked out due to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate!”

“Now that you see how personal medical decisions are, will you call for the re-recruitment, restoration of full rank and back pay for the 8,600 service members who were vax-mandated out of the military?” Gaetz asked.

Austin replied curtly, “No, I won’t.”

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About Debra Heine

Debra Heine is a conservative Catholic mom of six and longtime political pundit. She has written for several conservative news websites over the years, including Breitbart and PJ Media.

Photo: UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 29: Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin testifies during the House Armed Services Committee hearing about his recent hospitalization and the communication issues with President Joe Biden, in Rayburn Building on Thursday, February 29, 2024. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)