Tom Price, President Donald Trump’s embattled health and human services secretary, resigned Friday amid sharp criticism of his extensive use of taxpayer-funded charter flights, the White House said.
The announcement came shortly after Trump told reporters he considered Price a “fine man” but that he “didn’t like the optics” and planned to make a decision by the end of the day.
By that point, the president had already received Price’s resignation letter. In a statement shortly afterward, the White House said Trump would designate Don Wright as acting secretary. Wright has been the acting assistant secretary for health and director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
Price submitted a four-paragraph resignation letter in which he said he regretted “that the recent events have created a distraction” from the administration’s objectives. “Success on these issues is more important than any one person,” he continued.
Not long after, HHS staff received a message from Price praising employees as “dedicated, committed” and saying it had been “a great joy” to serve with them.
He closed: “Duty is Ours – Results are the Lord’s!”
Price had given every indication this week that he intended to fight to keep his job. During an interview Thursday night on Fox News, he said he planned “to not only regain the trust of the American people, but gain the trust of the administration and the president.”
And in an email on Friday with a time stamp of 4:43 p.m. – just minutes before the White House announced his departure – Price detailed personnel changes and a “strategic shift” initiative that gave no hint of his own move.
Trump’s advisers said the president was particularly discomfited by Price’s behavior because he’d run as a champion for “forgotten” Americans for whom costly charter-plane travel seemed particularly egregious.
“It speaks to people who think Washington is already beyond hope and out of touch,” said Barry Bennett, a campaign adviser last year.
The similar accusations swirling around four other Cabinet members – over similarly expensive or unusual travel – have only heightened the cynicism. Details emerged Friday on a trip that Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin took to Europe in July; in between meetings with Danish and British officials, he and his wife went to the Wimbledon tennis match and took a cruise on the Thames. The government paid for their flights and some expenses.
Price, a Georgia multimillionaire and orthopedic surgeon by training, had announced Thursday that he would reimburse the government for a fraction of the costs of his charter flights in recent months. An HHS official said Price would write a check for $51,887.31, which appears to cover the cost of his seat on the flights but not those of his staffers.
Politico, which first reported on Price’s repeated use of private planes, has estimated the total expense of the taxpayer-funded trips exceeded $400,000 – and it reported early Thursday evening that his White House-approved travel on military planes to Africa, Europe and Asia cost more than $500,000.
After the HHS inspector general initiated a probe, Price first said he would suspend such trips until the inquiry was complete. On Thursday he pledged to no longer take such flights, saying he regretted “the concerns this has raised regarding the use of taxpayer dollars.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Juliet Eilperin, Amy Goldstein, John Wagner