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Democratic Sen. Bob Casey says of Austin's initial silence on hospitalization "there's no way it's acceptable" — "The Takeout"

As the Pentagon inspector general launches an investigation into Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's failure to inform the Biden White House and other top Pentagon officials about severe medical consequences stemming from prostate cancer treatment, Sen. Bob Casey, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CBS News on "The Takeout" podcast this week, "There has to be a lot more transparency."

"No one should say that this is acceptable," Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said. "There's no way it's acceptable. When you're in that position, you're in a chain of command and also in succession to the presidency. There has to be a lot more transparency. That's paramount."

The Pentagon had already announced an internal review of Austin's medical situation and the failure to notify President Biden or national security adviser Jake Sullivan of a serious urinary tract infection that flared after Austin's prostate cancer surgery. Pain from the infection led Austin to be taken by ambulance to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and placed in intensive care. Austin had the prostate procedure on Dec. 22. He participated in a conference call with Mr. Biden on New Year's Day but was hospitalized later that day. Some Pentagon officials were notified on Jan. 2. The White House was not informed until Jan. 4. Key members of Congress received only scant details through Jan. 7. The president did not learn of Austin's cancer diagnosis until Jan. 9.

Austin monitored the strikes Thursday against Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen in real time from the hospital, according to a defense official. This official said Austin was "actively involved" and has spoken to the president twice in the past 72 hours leading up to the operation. 

Some lawmakers have called on Austin to resign.

"I don't think he should resign," Casey told "The Takeout." "His team has to bear some of the accountability here. They've got to do a much better job of informing the public when something like this happens and informing the White House and others in the administration. There wasn't the kind of transparency that anyone should expect."

Casey said the lack communication about Austin's health and ability to carry out his job was more troubling because of the war in Ukraine and U.S. military activity in the Middle East.

Sen. Bob Casey
File: Sen. Bob Casey, Jr., D-Pa., arrives for a vote in the Capitol on Thursday, November 2, 2023.  Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

"It heightens the urgency of having a protocol in place to provide that transparency," Casey said.

Casey said Congress must approve Mr. Biden's request for $61 billion in military and economic aid to Ukraine in the coming weeks. That aid package is tied to gnarled Senate negotiations over sweeping changes to immigration policy – specifically touching asylum, deportation and parole.  

"It's vital for Ukraine, but it's also vital for the free world," Casey said of the Ukraine aid package. "If we are going to allow an invader like (Russian President Vladimir) Putin to go into another country, to invade that country (and) take it over, he's not going to stop at Ukraine. Do you want to fight a larger war that will involve a lot more money and a lot more American forces? I don't think anyone wants to fight a war in Europe. That's what you're looking at if you abandon Ukraine."

House Republicans have demanded border policy changes before agreeing to consider additional assistance for Ukraine.

Casey said Ukraine and border security were "radically different issues."

"The fight in Ukraine is about stopping a murderous dictator from taking over a country," Casey said. "You have to separate that from what's happening at the border. There is no question that we have to come to conclusion on these border policy negotiations. But we have to vote for the money to hire more people at the boarder."

Casey criticized Republicans for failing to agree to $13 billion in funding Biden has requested for border security. House Speaker Mike Johnson recently said on "Face the Nation" he would not increase funding for current Biden border policies.

"You cannot throw more money at a bad system," Johnson told moderator Margaret Brennan. "We don't want to empower more of this."

Casey dismissed Johnson's approach, accusing House Republicans of playing politics with immigration in an election year. Polls consistently show widespread disapproval of Biden's immigration policy.

"Border security for a lot of politicians is hot air and tough talk," Casey said. "You got to vote for the money. If you're serious about it, it's like law enforcement. If you're serious about law enforcement, you got to fund it."

Casey also defended Israel's continue military campaign in Gaza, denying it has committed war crimes or engaged in genocide, as alleged by South Africa.

"Those questions are going to be asked," Casey said. "There will be inquiries about that. Horrific loss of life is troubling to everyone. (But) I've seen no evidence that Israel has not taken a series of steps to avoid civilian casualties. They're trying to do everything they can."

Casey also criticized what he called a post-Oct. 7 narrative that suggest Israel alone has been the military aggressor. He also described the Oct. 7 Hamas assault inside Israel as a new form of terrorism.

"After they killed someone over and over again, they would keep screaming, epithets and — and use the word dog over and over and over again against people are lying on a floor, dead and bleeding," Casey said of Hamas militants.

Casey said video of those attacks have been shared with senators. He called the footage "savage."

"That kind of depravity (is) different than some of the terrorism we've seen over the last generation," Casey said. "They're trying to wipe out a people, the Jewish people. They're not simply trying to terrorize the state of Israel, or terrorize a kibbutz, or terrorize a neighborhood. They they've continued to attack. They've said over and over they want to have more Oct. 7ths. This idea that the threat manifested itself on Oct. 7 and then receded and everything since then has been an Israeli response is really faulty."

Casey has heard allegations of Israeli atrocities or disproportionate military attacks in Gaza. He acknowledged some Democrats have turned against Israeli military tactics and demanded greater restraint.

"It's important to have a debate about this," Casey said. "It's important for us to debate what's happening going forward. But it's an exceedingly complex, difficult circumstance. Some of the back-and-forth on social media — it's unfortunately over-simplified."

Casey also defended Pennsylvania's election procedures in 2020. Speaker Johnson and dozens of other House Republicans filed a brief to the Supreme Court in support of a Texas lawsuit that sought to nullify Pennsylvania's presidential election results. The Supreme Court rejected the suit.

"It was insulting (and) it was erroneous," Casey said of the lawsuit. "It was all based upon a lie. There was nothing in Pennsylvania that was inappropriate about that election. It worked pretty much flawlessly.  They just didn't like the results. Anyone who signs a brief like that is an election denier."

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Executive producer: Arden Farhi

Producers: Jamie Benson, Jacob Rosen, Sara Cook and Eleanor Watson

CBSN Production: Eric Soussanin 
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