Price quits Trump team

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - New York Times

Big travel ex­penses, plus the fail­ure of health care bills, doomed sec­re­tary.

WASH­ING­TON — Tom Price, the health and hu­man ser­vices sec­re­tary, re­signed un­der pres­sure Fri­day af­ter rack­ing up at least $400,000 in travel bills for char­tered flights and un­der­min­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s prom­ise to drain the swamp of a cor­rupt and en­ti­tled cap­i­tal.

Al­ready in trou­ble with

Trump for months of un­suc­cess­ful ef­forts to re­peal and re­place Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health care pro­gram, Price failed to defuse the pres­i­dent’s anger over his high­priced travel by agree­ing to pay a por­tion of the cost and ex­press­ing “re­gret” for his ac­tions.

“I’m not happy, okay?” Trump told re­porters as he was about to head to his New Jersey golf club for the week­end, barely an hour be­fore the res­ig­na­tion was an­nounced. “I can tell you, I’m not happy.” He called Price “a very good man” but added that the sec­re­tary’s of­fer to re­im­burse the gov­ern­ment for just part of the cost of the flights “would be un­ac­cept­able.”

The White House an­nounce­ment of Price’s de­par­ture was spare, with none of the cus-

tomary praise of his work or thanks for his ser­vice. The state­ment is­sued by White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said sim­ply that Price had “of­fered his res­ig­na­tion ear­lier to­day and the pres­i­dent ac­cepted.”

Trump tapped Don J. Wright, a deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for health and the di­rec­tor of the Of­fice of Dis­ease Pre­ven­tion and Health Pro­mo­tion, to serve as act­ing sec­re­tary. Pos­si­ble can­di­dates for a suc­ces­sor in­clude Seema Verma, ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Cen­ters for Medi­care and Med­i­caid Ser­vices, and Scott Got­tlieb, com­mis­sioner of the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“I have spent forty years both as a doc­tor and pub­lic ser­vant putting peo­ple first,” Price said in his res­ig­na­tion let­ter to Trump. “I re­gret that the re­cent events have cre­ated a dis­trac­tion from these im­por­tant ob­jec­tives. Suc­cess on these is­sues is more im­por­tant than any one per­son. In or­der for you to move for­ward with­out fur­ther dis­rup­tion, I am of­fi­cially ten­der­ing my res­ig­na­tion.”

Price’s res­ig­na­tion was the lat­est de­par­ture from an ad­min­is­tra­tion plagued by tur­bu­lence at the top. In the eight months since Trump took of­fice, he has fired or lost his chief of staff, chief strate­gist, na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, press sec­re­tary, two com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tors, a deputy chief of staff, a deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, the FBI di­rec­tor and nu­mer­ous other aides and ad­vis­ers.

Price’s job was on the line since the first of a string of re­ports by Politico on Sept. 19 about his ex­ten­sive use of char­ter air­craft. Trump has fumed pri­vately and pub­licly about Price’s ac­tions, fear­ing that they un­der­cut his prom­ise to rid Wash­ing­ton of the sort of abuses that have soured the pub­lic on its po­lit­i­cal class. The pres­i­dent made clear Fri­day that he also saw it as un­der­min­ing his prom­ise to save the gov­ern­ment money, cit­ing ef­forts to rene­go­ti­ate con­tracts.

In a bid to as­suage Trump, the sec­re­tary of­fered Thurs­day to re­im­burse the gov­ern­ment $51,887 of the $400,000 spent, which he said rep­re­sented the cost of his seat on the trips. But it was clear that was not enough to save his job.

Price, a physi­cian and a former Repub­li­can con­gress­man from Ge­or­gia who had long op­posed Obama’s Af­ford­able Care Act, served as a point man on Trump’s drive to scrap the law. In July, Trump said in joc­u­lar fash­ion that he would fire Price if he did not get the votes for the leg­is­la­tion. “He bet­ter get them,” Trump told an au­di­ence with Price at his side. “Oth­er­wise, I’ll say, ‘Tom, you’re fired.’ ”

Price may not be the only se­nior of­fi­cial at risk for spend­ing gov­ern­ment money. In re­cent days, a slew of re­ports about the habits of the Cab­i­net have re­sulted in a slow-rolling pub­lic re­la­tions headache for the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency chief Scott Pruitt has spent more than $58,000 on char­ter and mil­i­tary flights, ac­cord­ing to the Wash­ing­ton Post. Ryan Zinke, the in­te­rior sec­re­tary, used a char­ter plane for sev­eral flights, in­clud­ing a $12,000 trip to de­liver a speech cel­e­brat­ing a new pro­fes­sional hockey team in Las Ve­gas.

Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin asked about us­ing a $25,000-an-hour mil­i­tary plane for his Euro­pean hon­ey­moon and later used a gov­ern­ment jet to fly to Fort Knox, in Ken­tucky, a trip that of­fered him a clear view of the so­lar eclipse in Au­gust, although he later dis­claimed any in­ter­est in the event.

Tom Price was sec­re­tary of health and hu­man ser­vices.

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