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White House: Biden Not Intending to Fire Defense Chief


FILE - U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks at the Pentagon, near Washington, July 18, 2023.
FILE - U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks at the Pentagon, near Washington, July 18, 2023.

U.S. President Joe Biden has no intention of firing Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin after Austin mysteriously failed for several days to publicly say he has been hospitalized and has yet to disclose his medical issue, the White House said Monday.

"There is no plan for anything other than for Secretary Austin to stay in the job," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

Austin, just below Biden at the top of the chain of command of the U.S. military, was hospitalized on New Year’s Day, but complications developed from what has been described as an elective medical procedure he had on December 22.

Pentagon press secretary Major General Patrick Ryder said that at "no time was national security in jeopardy" because of Austin's hospitalization, although his duties were transferred to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks during some of his hospitalization.

The spokesperson said Austin "has no plans to resign."

"He continues to stay focused on conducting his duties as the secretary," Ryder said, and is receiving operational and intelligence reports.

The spokesperson said Austin is no longer in the intensive care unit but is still at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center "in a more private area" of the hospital. Ryder said the defense chief "continues to experience discomfort, but his prognosis is good."

The Pentagon declined to disclose any details of Austin's elective medical procedure.

For days, the 70-year-old Austin never told Biden or had the Pentagon announce his hospitalization, which would be commonplace for figures at the highest levels of the U.S. government.

Austin said on Saturday that he took "full responsibility" for the secrecy over his hospitalization.

But top Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, the leading 2024 Republican presidential candidate to face Biden in the November presidential election, called for Austin's dismissal.

Austin should be fired for his "improper professional conduct and dereliction of duty," Trump said.

"He has been missing for one week, and nobody, including his boss, Crooked Joe Biden, had a clue as to where he was, or might be," Trump wrote on Truth Social.

Republican Representative Elise Stefanik also called for Austin’s dismissal, saying in a statement, "There must be full accountability beginning with the immediate resignation of Secretary Austin and those that lied for him and a congressional investigation into this dangerous dereliction of duty."

Officials disclosed Sunday that Austin's hospitalization was kept far more secret than previously known, including from Hicks, his Pentagon deputy. Austin's duties require him to be available at a moment's notice to respond to any military or national security crisis.

Kirby said he had no information on the nature of Austin's medical issue, but that Biden and Austin had talked in recent days.

The spokesperson said the White House would review what rules or procedures weren't followed when Austin was hospitalized and failed to disclose it.

"We'll do what's akin to a hot wash," Kirby said, looking at the disclosure procedures in place and "try to learn from this experience."