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Lawmakers fault Defense Secretary Austin for a failure of leadership over his secret hospital stay

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin faced pointed bipartisan criticism at a congressional hearing Thursday for his failure to promptly notify President Joe Biden and other U.S. leaders about his hospital stay last month. Republicans demanded to know why no one has been disciplined.

Members of the House Armed Services Committee condemned the lapse as an embarrassment and a failure of his leadership. They said the fact that Biden was kept in the dark about Austin not being in command for days could have meant confusion or delays in military action, even though decision-making authorities had been transferred to the deputy defense secretary.

Austin insisted there were no gaps in control of the department or the nation’s security because “at all times, either I or the deputy secretary was in a position to conduct the duties of my office.” He said changes have been made to the notification process.

Manyl Democrats also expressed concerns about Austin’s lack of transparency about his hospitalization for complications from prostate cancer surgery. But some also used the hearing to criticize House Republicans, who hold a slim majority, for not passing a budget or addressing critical national security needs.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., denounced the “outrage and drama” from committee members as she said Austin has admitted making an error, apologized and taken action to prevent a repeat. She implored her colleagues to “focus in on the things that are actually important to national security” such as threats from Russia and China.

Nonetheless, there was general agreement that Austin and his staff bungled notifications about his hospital stay in early January.

“It’s totally unacceptable that it took three days to inform the president of the United States that the secretary of defense was in the hospital and not in control of the Pentagon,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, the committee chairman, adding that wars were raging in Ukraine and Israel at the time. “The chain of command doesn’t work when the commander in chief doesn’t know who to call.”


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