Price Out as HHS Secretary after Private Plane Scandal
Albanian Daily News
Published September 30, 2017
Tom Price, the embattled health and human services secretary, resigned Friday in the midst of a scandal over his use of private planes, a storm that enraged President Donald Trump and undercut his promise to bring accountability to Washington.
Price's departure came as he's being investigated by the department's inspector general for using private jets for multiple government business trips, even to fly distances often as short as from Washington to Philadelphia. The cost for the trips ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The scandal infuriated Trump, who viewed the controversy as a needless distraction from his agenda. Over the course of the week, Trump fumed to aides about Price's flights, which he deemed "stupid," according to multiple sources. Instead of moving past the storm, Price's offer to reimburse the government for only a fraction of the flights' costs enraged Trump further.
Speaking less than an hour before the resignation was announced, Trump bemoaned the optics of the matter, which he said obscured what otherwise had been a cost-saving tenure.
"I was disappointed because I didn't like it, cosmetically or otherwise. I was disappointed," Trump said.
Price and his aides have insisted that the trips he took by private charter jet had been approved through the usual legal and ethics offices at HHS. But the appearance of a millionaire Cabinet secretary flying routes easily navigated by far cheaper means proved an optics nightmare for an administration already accused of being out of touch with regular Americans.
Price is the latest casualty in an administration that's seen a high rate of dramatic departures over its first eight months. Since taking office, Trump has dismissed or seen quit his national security adviser, press secretary, communications director, chief strategist, acting attorney general and FBI director. The tumult has come as Trump struggles to fulfill key aspects of his agenda on Capitol Hill, and as his team confronts its most dire challenge yet on a storm-demolished Puerto Rico.
Trump was incensed that Price's actions undermined his vow to "drain the swamp," though Price is not the only Cabinet official to have used private air charters to travel around the country. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have both flown on private planes during their tenures in the administration.
The White House said this week it was examining whether to adopt stricter oversight of Cabinet secretaries' travel plans.
The first sign of Trump's ire emerged on Wednesday, when he said only "we'll see" after being asked if he was planning to fire Price. Neither Trump nor his top aides could say in the following days whether Price retained the President's confidence.
Departing the White House on Friday, Trump called Price a "very fine man" who had nonetheless made a grave mistake.
"This is an administration that saves hundreds of millions of dollars on renegotiating things," Trump said. "So I don't like to see somebody that perhaps there's the perception that it wasn't right."
The resignation was announced as Trump flew aboard Air Force One for another weekend at his golf club in New Jersey. Stepping off his own plane, Trump offered a thumbs-up sign when reporters asked if he'd accepted Price's resignation.
Price himself offered a rosy picture of his future on Thursday evening, telling CNN that he "absolutely" planned to stay on as health secretary -- a claim that was ultimately not meant to be.