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Biden says Austin showed lapse in judgment regarding hospitalization

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(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden on Friday publicly faulted Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for not informing him earlier that he was hospitalized for complications from cancer treatment.

When a reporter asked Biden whether it was “a lapse in judgment for him not to tell you earlier,” Biden replied, “Yes.”

At the same time, when asked by a reporter if he still had confidence in Austin, Biden replied he did.

Biden made his first comments on the controversy while visiting small businesses in battleground Pennsylvania on Friday.

Austin and the Pentagon are under immense scrutiny for initially keeping the White House and others in the dark for days about his health. The defense secretary underwent a minimally invasive surgical procedure for prostate cancer Dec. 22, which led to a urinary tract infection and serious intestinal complications.

Austin remained hospitalized this week, as the U.S. planned and led a coalition of retaliatory strikes against Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen over the group’s attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Friday Austin’s performance was “seamless.”

“His participation was no different than it would be on any other given day, except that he was briefing the president on options and engaged in the discussions from the hospital,” Kirby said. “But he was fully engaged as he would be in any other event.”

The Pentagon, too, emphasized his role in the significant strikes against the Houthis — who’ve voted to retaliate.

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Department of Defense press secretary, said Austin had two conversations with President Biden as well as daily calls with other officials about how to respond to the Houthis and how to execute the strikes.

“Then yesterday afternoon, the secretary gave the order to Central Command to initiate those strikes, and then monitored in real time with a full suite of secure communications,” Ryder said.

Austin, in a statement on the strikes against the Houthis, said the action was intended to disrupt the group’s abilities by targeting their unmanned aerial vehicle, uncrewed surface vessel, land-attack cruise missile and costal radar and air surveillance capabilities

He said the move “sends a clear message to the Houthis that they will bear further costs if they do not end their illegal attacks.”

The Pentagon’s communications breakdown when it came to Austin’s hospitalization is being independently investigated by the Department of Defense inspector general. The Pentagon has also ordered its own 30-day review of the circumstances, and the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee launched a formal inquiry.

ABC News’ Fritz Farrow and Selina Wang contributed to this report.

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