“No, good question. Thank you for the question,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre responded to a reporter who asked if the two men had spoken. “We’re happy to hear of his discharge, obviously.”
Austin was released from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday, two weeks after he was admitted for complications following a treatment for prostate cancer.
Austin has faced heavy bipartisan criticism for failing to report his hospitalization to Biden, members of Congress and even members of his own inner circle for several days. Biden and the rest of the world didn’t find out about his prostate cancer diagnosis for nearly a month after Austin was first diagnosed in early December.
His hospitalization came as the US faces multiple high-stakes international crises that require the attention of the defense secretary, including Houthi attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea and the Israel-Hamas war, which threatens to expand into a broader regional conflict.
Austin has acknowledged the concerns about transparency and took full responsibility for the lack of communication in a statement. Biden said last week that Austin showed a lapse of judgement by not notifying him of his hospitalization, but reiterated that he still maintains confidence in his defense secretary.
Jean-Pierre said Biden and Austin spoke last week and that she didn’t have anything to share on when they would speak again, but said that Austin had “very much been engaged and involved in what we’re seeing in the Middle East right now.”
“We are very happy to hear of his discharge and [are] looking forward to him getting back to the Pentagon,” she said.
Asked later how often Biden speaks with Austin, Jean-Pierre said the two speak “often” and “regularly,” but that she didn’t have “a regular cadence to speak to.”
“From senior levels of the of the Department of Defense and also at the (National Security Council) – and obviously, at the State Department – they’re in constant communication with their counterparts, or the folks that they deal with on a regular basis,” Jean-Pierre said. “As it relates to the president, they do speak regularly, just don’t have the specifics on how often.”
Austin will work remotely “for a period of time” before returning to the Pentagon, the Pentagon said in a statement announcing his release from the hospital. He has “full access” to secure communications capabilities.
His doctors said Monday that he is “expected to make a full recovery.”
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