House Republicans Grill Def Sec Austin Over Transparency: ‘You’ve Held Yourself To A Different Standard’
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testifies during a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building on February 29, 2024 in Washington, DC.
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

House Republicans engaged Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin with pointed lines of questioning as he testified on Thursday about his secretive hospitalization earlier this year following a procedure to treat prostate cancer and other issues.

During a House Armed Service Committee hearing, GOP members pressed Austin over concerns about a break in the chain of command and accountability. Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) declared, “Someone needs to be held accountable.” Democrats used the opportunity to push for the passage of more aid to war-torn Ukraine, according to The New York Times.

Austin testified that he did “not handle this right,” referring to the Department of Defense (DoD) failing to quickly alert other officials about his health, but CNN reported that he repeatedly insisted there was “never a break in command and control” at the Pentagon.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference who has called on Austin to resign, pressed the secretary on whether a junior service member would be disciplined for not reporting for duty.

“If a service member was in a hospital I think the chain of command would be concerned about why they were in the hospital and make sure that they are doing the right things to take care of them and their families,” Austin said.

“But don’t you think it’s their responsibility to notify their commanding officer?” Stefanik asked as a follow-up question. “I think, possible, yes,” Austin replied, to which Stefanik shot back, “The answer is yes.”

Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), a Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan, pressed Austin on whether he “usually” goes days without talking to President Joe Biden.

“I mean, that can happen,” Austin said. He noted there are times in which either he or the commander-in-chief is traveling and do not engage in direct communication.

“Either the president is that aloof or you are irrelevant — which one is it?” Banks asked. He also pointed out that the Pentagon did not notify the White House for three days about Austin’s intensive care unit stay.

“It’s neither,” Austin said in his reply. “The president is not aloof.”

During another exchange that touched on the COVID pandemic, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said Austin did not immediately inform the president about his treatment for cancer and the complications that followed that prompted a hospital visit because he viewed the matter as personal and private.

“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.

“No, I won’t,” Austin said. As the exchange continued, Austin told Gaetz that he does not expect to be discharged, suspended, or demoted over the controversy he faces.

After noting how Biden signed off on lifting his administration’s own military vaccine mandate, Gaetz said, “You’re not meeting your own standards that you set for yourself. And you say that the DoD is a learning organization. Haven’t you learned yet that the military is weaker, not stronger, with the 8,600 people that you’ve vax-mandated out of the military?”

In response, Austin said, “The reason I’m here is because the chairman requested that I appear to talk about the circumstances surrounding my hospitalization.”

Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL), a retired colonel in the Army National Guard and veteran Green Beret, argued that the hospitalization controversy was not about process but rather judgement.

“The American people, truck drivers, bartenders, know they have to tell their boss or they get fired — but you’ve held yourself to a different standard, and that’s unacceptable,” he said.

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The Daily Wire   >  Read   >  House Republicans Grill Def Sec Austin Over Transparency: ‘You’ve Held Yourself To A Different Standard’