Obama encouraged John Bryson to focus on health in phone call

John Bryson AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

President Obama and John Bryson
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

(CBS News) President Obama encouraged Commerce Secretary John Bryson to focus on his recovery in a Tuesday telephone call as the low-profile cabinet member begins a medical leave of absence following multiple car accidents in Southern California over the weekend.

The department announced late Monday that Bryson would take a medical leave of absence in the wake of news that he suffered a seizure and hit two different cars in three different incidents that took place within minutes of each other.

Mr. Obama told Bryson to "focus his thoughts on his own health, on his own family," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters traveling with the president for a campaign event outside of Baltimore.

Earnest said the phone conversation was the first time the two men had spoken since the accidents.

Bryson, a former utility executive, hit a car stopped for a train twice on Saturday afternoon and then hit a second car in a nearby town shortly thereafter. He was found unconscious in his car and cited with felony hit-and run, though he has not been charged. Government officials later said he had a seizure.

It was not clear how long his leave of absence would be. Deputy Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank has been named Acting Commerce Secretary.

Asked why he was taking a leave of absence rather than resigning, Earnest told reporters he did not want to get ahead of the situation because the outcome is still not determined.

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