President Joe Biden said Friday after the Pentagon that he has confidence in Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. he waited three days to report to the White House a senior defense official was in the intensive care unit.
Biden confirmed that Austin had “lapsed judgment” by failing to tell the White House that he had previously been hospitalized.
The president’s comments came in response to questions from reporters while stopping at a coffee shop in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
A reporter asked the president, “Do you trust Secretary Austin?”
“I do,” Biden replied.
“Wasn’t it judgmental that he didn’t tell you in the first place?” asked the journalist.
“Yes,” Biden said.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has previously said during press conferences that the White House has “full confidence” in Austin, but Friday was the first time the president himself said so.
Austin was hospitalized a few days after the operation prostate cancer. He was taken to the hospital by ambulance on January 1 and transferred to the intensive care unit the next day, but his team did not inform the White House of the secretary’s hospitalization until January 4.
Austin acknowledged the investigation into the delay in disclosing his hospitalization and said he was determined to do better.
“I also understand the media’s concerns about transparency, and I understand that I could have done a better job of keeping the public properly informed. I promise to do better,” Austin said in a Jan. 6 statement. “But it’s important to say this: This was my medical procedure, and I take full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure.”
The White House has previously acknowledged that the delay in notification of Austin’s hospitalization was a problem.
“It’s true that we didn’t know he was hospitalized, and I’ve said repeatedly that’s a problem,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said at a press briefing Thursday. “This should never happen again — if a Cabinet official is hospitalized or needs to see a doctor, certainly the White House needs to know to the extent that authority should be delegated.”
Deputy Minister of Defense Kathleen Hicks On Jan. 2, the White House assumed Austin’s duties before learning of Austin’s hospitalization. Austin then resumed his post.
Austin remains hospitalized and “remains in good condition,” Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement Friday.
“He remains in contact with senior staff and has full access to the required secure communications capabilities and continues to oversee DOD’s day-to-day operations around the world,” Ryder said, adding that the Pentagon did not know when Austin would be released from the hospital. .
Biden had a phone call with Austin on Jan. 6, which a senior administration official previously described as a “warm conversation.”
“The President wished him the best in his recovery and said he looked forward to seeing the Secretary at the Pentagon soon,” a senior administration official said.