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Defense Secretary Austin faces criticism over delayed hospitalization disclosure

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US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is under increasing scrutiny for his delayed disclosure of hospitalization, leaving the White House and Congress uninformed during a critical Middle East crisis.

Austin was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on January 1 due to complications from an elective medical procedure. However, the Pentagon only made this public four days later, keeping key officials in the dark during a period of heightened tensions in the Middle East.

The 70-year-old secretary’s hospitalization coincides with challenges in managing the aftermath of the Israel-Hamas war, leading to attacks on American forces in Iraq and Syria, as well as incidents affecting international shipping.

Ian Bremmer, President of Eurasia Group, commented that the delay in informing President Biden about Austin’s hospitalization for four days amid the crisis is shocking. Bremmer sees it as an opportunity for the president to consider a replacement, but the White House has expressed support for Austin.

Austin had undergone a medical procedure on December 22 and was discharged the next day. However, he experienced “severe pain” on January 1, leading to his ambulance transport to Walter Reed, as revealed by Pentagon spokesman Major General Pat Ryder.

Despite some of Austin’s authorities being transferred to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks on January 2, she was not informed of his hospitalization until two days later.

Congress was also only notified on the day the Pentagon made a public announcement, a day after the White House was informed.

Pentagon spokesman Ryder attributed the delayed notifications to Austin’s chief of staff being sick with the flu. He stated that a review is underway to enhance notification procedures, including those for the White House and Congress.

Criticism has emerged from Congress, with Representative Elise Stefanik calling for Austin’s immediate resignation, labeling the delay “shocking and absolutely unacceptable.”

Former President Donald Trump also weighed in, urging Austin’s immediate firing.

In response to the criticism, the White House, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, expressed President Biden’s complete confidence in Secretary Austin.

Ryder confirmed that Austin, still hospitalized but out of intensive care, has resumed full duties and has no plans to resign.

Austin acknowledged taking “full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure” in a statement on Saturday, admitting that he “could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed.”

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