Price quits Trump team
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.