Sun, Oct 01, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Trump’s health secretary resigns after travel flap

AP, WASHINGTON

Former US secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price speaks at a news conference at the Press Club in Washington on Thursday.

Photo: Reuters

US President Donald Trump’s health secretary resigned on Friday, after his costly travel triggered investigations that overshadowed the US administration’s agenda and angered his boss.

Former US secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price’s regrets and partial repayment could not save his job.

Price became the first member of the US president’s Cabinet to be pushed out in a turbulent young administration that has seen several high-ranking White House aides ousted.

A former US Republican congressman from the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, Price served less than eight months as health secretary.

Publicly, Trump had said he was “not happy” with Price for repeatedly using private charter aircraft for official trips on the taxpayers’ dime, when cheaper commercial flights would have sufficed in many cases.

Privately, Trump has been telling associates that his health chief had become a distraction.

Trump felt that Price was overshadowing his tax overhaul agenda and undermining his campaign promise to “drain the swamp” of corruption, according to three people familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity.

On Friday, the US president called Price a “very fine person,” but added: “I certainly don’t like the optics.”

Price said in his resignation letter that he regretted that “recent events have created a distraction.”

The flap prompted scrutiny of other Cabinet members’ travel, as the US House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform launched a government-wide investigation of top political appointees.

Other department heads have been scrambling to explain their own travel.

US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke faced scrutiny over three charter flights while in office, including a US$12,375 late-night trip from Las Vegas to his home state of Montana in June.

On Friday, he dismissed the controversy over charter flights as “a little BS [bullshit] over travel,” but he said taxpayers do have the right to know official travel costs.

Price’s repayment of US$51,887.31 for his own travel costs did not placate the White House.

The total travel cost, including his entourage, was unclear. It could amount to several hundred thousand US dollars.

Following Price’s resignation, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney informed Cabinet secretaries and agency heads in a memo that approval from chief of staff John Kelly would be required for any travel on government-owned, rented, leased or chartered aircraft.

When Price joined the US administration, Trump touted him as a conservative policy expert who could write a new healthcare bill to replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

However, Price became more of a supporting player in the Republican Party’s futile healthcare campaign, while US Vice President Mike Pence took the lead, particularly with the US Senate.

The perception of Price jetting around while Republican lawmakers labored to repeal “Obamacare” — including a three-nation trip in May to Africa and Europe — raised eyebrows on Capitol Hill.

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