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Merrick Garland to Temporarily Cede Power While Undergoing Back Surgery

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland will undergo a back procedure over the weekend and—though he’ll be back in action soon enough—hand his powers over to his deputy for the duration of the surgery, the Justice Department said Monday.

Garland will be under general anesthesia during the “minimally invasive” procedure on Saturday, which is expected to last about 90 minutes, the department said in a statement shared by the Associated Press. His duties will be undertaken by Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco shortly before, during, and shortly after the surgery as he recovers from the anesthesia, according to the AP. Garland, 71, is expected to return home the same day, and return to work the week of Feb. 5.

The early-bird announcement by the Biden administration comes within hours of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s return to the Pentagon after a nearly month-long absence caused by a hospitalization for medical complications that arose after prostate cancer surgery.

He did not immediately disclose his Dec. 22 surgery or subsequent hospitalization on Jan. 1 to colleagues or the White House, which President Joe Biden later characterized as a lapse in judgment. Asked earlier this month if he still had confidence in Austin, Biden replied that he did.

Despite retaining the president’s confidence, the misstep by Austin caused the White House to shore up its notification guidelines for Cabinet officials this week, with the mandate that federal agencies notify the White House chief of staff and document delegation should a Cabinet member be hospitalized, undergo general anesthesia, or otherwise be unreachable.

Congress has also responded to Austin’s actions, with the House Armed Services Committee requesting he formally answer questions next month about the delay. Both the Department of Defense and the Pentagon inspector general are also carrying out their own internal reviews of the matter.

Austin was discharged from the hospital on Jan. 15 after being diagnosed with a urinary tract infection and a buildup of fluids affecting his small intestines.


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