Lloyd Austin
Lloyd AustinMiriam Alster/Flash 90

US President Joe Biden did not learn that his Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin, had prostate cancer until Tuesday, the White House said, minutes after the news of the diagnosis was disclosed to the public.

"He (Biden) was not informed until last (Thursday) that Secretary Austin was in the hospital. He was not informed until this morning that the root cause of that hospitalization was prostate cancer," White House spokesperson John Kirby said.

"Nobody at the White House knew that Secretary Austin had prostate cancer until this morning, and the president was informed immediately after."

Austin, who is 70, has been hospitalized since January 1 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The Pentagon kept the hospitalization not just from the public, but also from the White House – including Biden himself – and Congress for much of last week, triggering a major political backlash.

On Sunday, it was reported that, when Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks began assuming some of Austin’s responsibilities on January 2, not even she knew that it was because Austin was hospitalized.

Austin was taken by ambulance on January 1 to Walter Reed after suffering complications from his December 22 prostate cancer treatment, including nausea with severe abdominal, hip, and leg pain. After he was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection, Austin was moved on January 2 to an intensive care unit.

Walter Reed gave an upbeat outlook for Austin but cautioned that his recovery could take time.

"His infection has cleared. He continues to make progress and we anticipate a full recovery although this can be a slow process," it said in a statement released by the Pentagon.

The Pentagon initially said Austin's December treatment was for an elective medical procedure. It was not clear how prostate cancer treatment would be considered elective.

Some prominent Republicans have called for Austin to be removed from his job in wake of the saga. On Monday, Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT) said he would be introducing articles of impeachment against Austin.

The Pentagon has stressed said Austin, who remains hospitalized at Walter Reed, has no plans to resign and the White House said Biden was not seeking to remove him.