Former Georgia congressman resigns after president says decision imminent, having apologized and repaid some costs
The health and human services secretary, Tom Price, has resigned, after revelations that he spent more than $1m of taxpayers money on travel including chartered flights.
Reports about such travel by Price and other cabinet members including the EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, interior secretary, Ryan Zinke and veterans affairs director, David Shulkin had undermined Donald Trumps promise to drain the swamp of corruption in Washington.
Price, already in a precarious position with the president after repeated failures to repeal the Affordable Care Act, had come under fire for spending so much money on private flights instead of commercial travel. On Thursday, he apologized for taking the flights and offered to reimburse the treasury for the relevant costs.
In statement on Friday, the White House said Price offered his resignation and Trump accepted it. Trump had teased the news, telling reporters an announcement was forthcoming.
Trump called Price a very fine man but said he did not like the optics of members of his cabinet the wealthiest ever assembled flying at great expense to taxpayers.
Im not happy, OK? Trump said, before departing Washington to spend the weekend at his New Jersey golf club. I can tell you, Im not happy.
The statement said Trump intended to tap Don Wright to serve as acting secretary, starting at midnight on Friday. Wright is currently deputy assistant secretary for health and director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
In a copy of his resignation letter posted to Twitter, Price thanked Trump for the opportunity to serve the American people.
I have spent 40 years both as a doctor and public servant putting people first, he wrote. I regret that the recent events have created a distraction from those important objectives.
In his statement of apology on Thursday, he had said: All of my political career Ive fought for taxpayers. It is clear to me that in this case, I was not sensitive enough to my concern for the taxpayer. I know as well as anyone that the American people want to know that their hard-earned dollars are being spent wisely by government officials.
As a Georgia congressman, Price branded himself as a fiscal conservative, railing against the use of private jets by members of Congress. In a 2009 interview with CNBC, he called such expenditure fiscal irresponsibility run amok and criticized a Democrat who argued such flights were necessary for certain department heads.
Trump became frustrated with Price as a series of reports by Politico detailed his secretarys spending over the last several months.
Politico first reported Prices extensive use of private charter planes for business travel last week, revealing that the secretary had taken at least 24 flights since May at a cost of more than $300,000. His predecessors in the job flew commercially when traveling within the continental US.
Price traveled twice on government-funded private jets to destinations where he and his wife own property, and paired official visits with meetings with colleagues and family members, according to Politico.
On Thursday, the website reported that the White House approved Prices use of military aircraft to travel to Europe, Asia and Africa for official business, at a cost of more than $500,000.
The total combined cost for Prices flights exceeded $1m, according to a Politico analysis.
In an appearance on Fox News on Thursday, Price said he believed he had the confidence of the president and called Trump a remarkable leader. But he said Trump had expressed his displeasure clearly.
On Friday, the House speaker, Paul Ryan, called Price a good man who he said had spent his entire adult life fighting for others.
Ryan said: He was a leader in the House and a superb health secretary. His vision and hard work were vital to the Houses success passing our healthcare legislation. I will always be grateful for Toms service to this country and, above all, his continued friendship.
The Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, criticized Prices determination to repeal the ACA, saying: The mission of the health and human services secretary should be to support Americans healthcare, not take it away. The next HHS secretary must follow the law when it comes to the Affordable Care Act instead of trying to sabotage it.