WASHINGTON — Tom Price resigned as Secretary of Health and Human Services on Friday, after President Donald Trump expressed dismay over Price’s use of expensive private chartered flights rather than commercial travel.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Price offered his resignation earlier on Friday, and Trump accepted. A deputy secretary, Don Wright, will serve as acting secretary.
Price’s resignation once again shakes up Trump’s team, and it is also likely to focus attention on how the administration is managing current healthcare law after Republicans repeatedly failed to repeal and replace Obamacare.
In his resignation letter, Price wrote that he had “spent forty years both as a doctor and public servant putting people first. I regret that the recent events have created a distraction from these important objectives.”
Price’s use of private air travel — costing more than $300,000 — was disclosed in a series of stories in Politico.
On Thursday, Price said that it was “clear to me that in this case, I was not sensitive enough to my concern for the taxpayer.” He said that he would cease using private charters and that he would compensate the government for his travel expenses.
But there were new questions raised about additional travel that Price took on military aircraft. Politico reported that, with White House approval, he flew to Europe, Asia, and Africa on military planes, in one case along with his wife, at a cost of more than $500,000.
And there also were doubts that the amount that Price planned to reimburse — for the cost of business class tickets — would actually cover the expense of a charter flight.
On Friday afternoon, Trump called Price a “very fine man” but said that he was upset over the use of the private air travel. He signaled that an announcement would come by Friday about his future.
Price’s resignation does not end the scrutiny over the use of private charters and military aircraft by members of Trump ‘s cabinet. Politico reported that Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke took such flights, although he called the press scrutiny “a little BS” and said that the flights had been approved by department ethics officials.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also has drawn attention for his use of government planes, including a trip he took with his wife, Louise Linton, to Kentucky, including a stop at Fort Knox where they viewed the eclipse. Mnuchin has defended the travel, and said that he would reimburse the government for the cost of his wife’s flight. A Treasury Department Inspector General is investigating the use of the plane.
On Thursday, he told an audience at the Washington Ideas Festival that “the only time that I will be using [military] air is when there are issues either for national security or we have to get to various different things where there’s no other means.”
Price’s resignation is just the latest shakeup among members of Trump’s team. In a four-week timeframe during the summer, there were resignations from Sean Spicer as press secretary, Reince Priebus as chief of staff, Anthony Scaramucci as communications director and Steve Bannon as chief strategist.
Whoever Trump nominates to succeed Price could face Democrats’ questions about how the department would implement the Affordable Care Act, amid charges that the administration is trying to sabotage President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement. Republicans have so far been unable to muster the votes necessary to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Price was a frequent critic of government spending when he served in Congress. He resigned after a decade in the House to become HHS Secretary.