Austin’s public cancer disclosure brings Hill sympathy, calls for accountability

Austin’s public cancer disclosure brings Hill sympathy, calls for accountability

When the Pentagon announced Tuesday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is being treated for prostate cancer, he joined a sizable club of prominent Washington officials who have publicly grappled with the disease.

That includes a host of senators who publicly disclosed their diagnosis and treatment. Asked about Austin’s handling of the situation today, several of those lawmakers offered sympathy but said there was no excuse for Austin’s delayed disclosure to the White House and to the public at large.

“I sense that he was embarrassed to admit that he had prostate cancer,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who was diagnosed in 2021. “And so I think he not only whiffed in his job duties, but he whiffed as an internationally recognized figure, to just say, ‘This is not something to be ashamed of. It’s something to take on.’”

The House Armed Services Committee is formally investigating the situation, and several lawmakers have called for Austin and other officials to appear at a congressional hearing. A few Republicans and one House Democrat have called on him to resign.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, the news of Austin’s diagnosis has muffled some of the criticism. Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.), for instance, said Wednesday that while the situation was “completely unacceptable,” he wanted the Biden administration to first examine “what happened and where the breakdown was.”

Besides Tillis, Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Angus King (I-Maine) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) have publicly revealed prostate cancer diagnoses in recent years. Other than non-melanoma skin cancer, it’s the most common cancer diagnosis in men, according to Centers for Disease Control data. A Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment.

“It’s obviously very common. But it’s also fortunately very treatable,” said Casey, who underwent surgery last year. “My own experience was, fortunately, very positive. I hope he has the same.”

But asked if Austin’s diagnosis should garner him any more understanding or sympathy for his lack of disclosure, Casey said it was “critically important in that instance to provide a measure of transparency — that didn’t happen.”

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