Stefanik rakes Def. Sec. Austin over double standard on his hospitalization

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) raked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin over the coals on Thursday for failing to inform President Biden that he was hospitalized last month.

Austin appeared before the House Armed Services Committee and took responsibility for the incident — an “internal review” at the Pentagon found that there was no “indication of ill intent or an attempt to obfuscate.”

“Again, we did not handle this right. And I did not handle this right. And as you know, I have apologized … including directly to the president. And I take full responsibility,” he said.

Stefanik began, “On the morning of January 4th, Mr. Secretary, you were in the Critical Care Unit, the Acting Secretary of Defense was vacationing in Puerto Rico, and President Joe Biden was unaware that you were not in the Chain of Command… And on January 4th at approximately 4 A.M. our time, the U.S. carried out a significant strike against a senior Iranian-backed leader in Iraq.”

Having already established that she represents Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division, Stefanik continued, “Because President Biden did not know you were outside of the Chain of Command during this U.S. strike, if Iran or its proxies in Iraq or Syria had carried out a retaliatory strike against 10th Mountain Division soldiers, the President’s Chain of Command would have and could have broken down potentially delaying presidential orders to protect lives of American forces, constituents that I represent. Do you understand why this is unacceptable to the American people and to those military families?”

Somewhat remarkably, Austin all but confirmed the GOP lawmaker’s point.

“First of all, I would say that when we’re attacked we have a right to defend ourselves and respond immediately if it’s a local attack,” he replied. “If a strike is warranted, then recommendations need to be provided to the President. Those recommendations come through from me and after I’ve consulted with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and also the Combatant Commander. The Deputy Secretary would have done the same thing and she has all of the capabilities and situational awareness to do that.”

Stefanik added the context the defense secretary skipped over as she continued to grill Austin.

“Except the President wasn’t aware,” she said. “The President of the United States was not aware that you were not in the Chain of Command, so God forbid there was a retaliatory strike, that would have caused potential delays and it is unacceptable.”

“Let me ask you this,” she continued. “What disciplinary action would a junior servicemember face if he or she failed to properly notify their Chain of Command and failed to report 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 claimed.

After agreeing that a servicemember is responsible for notifying their commanding officer, Austin appeared to throw his staff under the bus when he said, “In my case, you know I would expect that my organization would do the right things to notify senior leaders if I am the patient in the hospital.”

Tom Tillison


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