The political landscape in Washington is abuzz following former President Trump’s demand for the removal of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
Key Republican senators, however, are treading cautiously, refraining from joining Trump’s call for Austin’s ouster.
Instead, they focus their criticism on Austin’s failure to inform the White House about his hospitalization, which they describe as a severe oversight.
GOP Senators criticize Austin’s absence, demand Senate hearing
Senior GOP members, aligned with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell from Kentucky, are openly criticizing Austin’s absence, labeling it as a “dereliction of duty” and “unacceptable.”
Despite their strong condemnation, these senators are not ready to push for Austin’s dismissal, as Trump has.
They are particularly critical of Austin for not disclosing his absence and advocate for a Senate hearing to investigate the matter.
The Pentagon’s apparent breach of statutory notification requirements about Austin’s absence has also drawn GOP ire.
White House’s oversight and GOP’s response
Republican senators are not only targeting Austin but also chastising the Biden administration for its failure to recognize Austin’s absence promptly.
They are rallying behind Trump’s critique of this national security lapse, seeing it as an opportunity to align with the former president, a prominent figure in the party.
Senate Republican Whip John Thune from South Dakota, who has disagreed with Trump, described the situation as a “terrible dereliction of duty,” demanding accountability but stopping short of seeking Austin’s resignation.
Senator Wicker seeks comprehensive briefing on Austin’s absence
Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, a leading figure on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is pressing the administration for a thorough briefing on the issue.
Wicker, expressing his dissatisfaction with the Defense Department’s delayed disclosure of Austin’s medical condition, emphasized the seriousness of the secrecy surrounding Austin’s unexplained absence.
However, like Thune, Wicker has not yet called for Austin’s removal, preferring to wait for a detailed hearing.
Military protocol and statutory requirements
Wicker pointed out that while temporary transfers of command authority are not unusual, the failure to notify senior government officials of Austin’s hospitalization is a significant concern.
He emphasized the mandatory nature of the statutory requirement for such notification, underscoring its importance.
Austin’s hospitalization followed complications from an undisclosed elective medical procedure, a fact that remains largely unknown among the senators.
Republican stance on national security issues
The situation presents an opportunity for Senate Republicans to counterattack the administration on a significant national security topic.
Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, an influential member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a McConnell ally called for the resignation of either Austin or his chief of staff over what he termed a “cover-up.”
Austin acknowledges need for transparency amidst ongoing inquiries
Trump, in his statement, criticized Austin for dereliction of duty and Biden for being unaware of Austin’s whereabouts.
Austin, in a recent statement, acknowledged the need for better transparency while asserting his right to privacy regarding his medical procedure.
He pledged to improve communication in the future.
Meanwhile, other senior Republicans, aware of Austin’s status as the nation’s first Black secretary of Defense, remain hesitant about calling for his resignation amidst the ongoing inquiries.
Senators concerned about Austin’s hospitalization
Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, chair of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, and Senator Susan Collins of Maine expressed serious concerns about the secrecy of Austin’s hospitalization but have not yet called for his resignation.
On the Democratic side, Senate Whip Dick Durbin voiced his unease about the incident, supporting the GOP’s call for a thorough investigation but deeming it premature to conclude whether Austin should be fired or resign.
The unfolding events indicate a complex interplay of political calculations and national security concerns, with more clarity expected in the coming days.