Defense Secretary Austin’s Mysterious Hospital Stay Is a Mess

AP photo/ Maya Alleruzzo

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spent some time last week in the hospital, a fact that staff failed to mention to the White House, according to numerous reports. Problematic in any job, Austin oversees the 1.4 million members of the U.S. military and is a key player in almost all of President Joe Biden’s top foreign policy challenges. 
On January 1, Austin was hospitalized—including a stay in the intensive care unit—for complications from an undisclosed elective surgery. But Austin didn’t inform anyone at the Pentagon or the White House of the hospital stay. It appears all of his duties were handled by Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, who was vacationing in Puerto Rico at the time. The lack of explanation has administration critics calling for punishment.
“Someone’s head has to roll,” a Department of Defense official told Politico, which first broke the story. Republican Senator Roger Wicker (Miss.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Forces committee, demanded a hearing on the issue and said in a statement it was “unacceptable“.
Even Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), a top Democrat, took time this morning on a Sunday morning show to scold Austin.

.@RepJamesClyburn tells @jaketapper that Secretary Lloyd Austin has a “duty” to keep the public informed on his recent hospitalization. “I do wish that it had been disclosed.”
— State of the Union (@CNNSOTU) January 7, 2024

Austin apologized on Saturday, saying he was committed to “doing better” in the future. He did not address his failure to inform Biden.
It seems unlikely, for now, that Austin will be removed. He’s deeply involved with the top foreign policy challenges, taking a leading role, for example, in the administration’s efforts to get weapons and aid to Ukraine. Austin, a retired four-star Army general, is also close personally to Biden. He served in Iraq with the president’s son Beau Biden, who passed away in 2015.