US Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigns

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned under pressure from President Donald Trump on Friday in an uproar over Price's use of costly private charter planes for government business.

His abrupt departure was announced an hour after Trump told reporters he was disappointed in Price's use of private aircraft and did not like the way it reflected on his administration.

"Secretary of Health and Human Services Thomas Price offered his resignation earlier today and the president accepted," the White House said in a statement.

Trump named Don Wright to serve as acting secretary. Wright is currently the deputy assistant secretary for health and director of the office of disease prevention and health promotion.

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Notable people who have been fired or resigned from Trump's administration
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Notable people who have been fired or resigned from Trump's administration

Sally Yates was fired from her post as acting attorney general when she refused to enforce President Trump's travel ban. 

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Michael Flynn resigned as national security adviser in February after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his interactions with Russian officials. 

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Trump fired Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh amid White House leaks in April.

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President Trump fired U.S. Attorney in Manhattan Preet Bharara in March.

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Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in early May.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Mike Dubke resigned as White House communications director in late May.

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Walter Shaub, former Director of the United States Office of Government Ethics in Washington, DC resigned in July.

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Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer resigned in July.

(June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus resigned in July.

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Former advisor to President Donald Trump Steve Bannon resigned in August.

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Anthony Scaramucci, former White House communications director was fired in July after just 10 days on the job. 

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Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price resigned in late September. 

(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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"I'm not happy. OK? I'm not happy," Trump told reporters on the White House South Lawn.

Candidates to succeed Price included Seema Verma, who is administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and who is close to Vice President Mike Pence, and Scott Gottlieb, a physician who serves as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, according to industry analysts.

Several sources saw Gottlieb as a clear front runner. They said he got along well with the White House and is viewed favorably there.

Price's resignation leaves Trump with a second Cabinet position to fill. He has yet to pick a secretary for homeland security after hiring former Secretary John Kelly as his White House chief of staff.

It was the latest blow to the Trump White House, which has struggled to get major legislative achievements passed by Congress and has been embroiled in one controversy after another since Trump took office in January.

Price, a former congressman, was instrumental in the Trump administration's policies aimed at undercutting Obamacare, as well as working with governors across the country to slowly begin unraveling parts of the law.

In a resignation letter, Price offered little in the way of contrition. He said he had been working to reform the U.S. healthcare system and reduce regulatory burdens, among other goals.

"I have 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," he said.

Trump, currently trying to sell his tax cut plan and oversee the federal response to devastation wreaked by three hurricanes, saw the Price drama as an unnecessary distraction and behind the scenes was telling aides "what was he thinking?," a source close to the president said.

Price promised on Thursday to repay the nearly $52,000 cost of his seats on private charter flights. "The taxpayers won’t pay a dime for my seat on those planes," Price said.

But that was not enough to satisfy Trump.

Trump told reporters that the "optics" of Price's travel were not good, since, as president he was trying to renegotiate U.S. contracts to get a better deal for taxpayers.

"Look, I think he's a very fine person. I certainly don't like the optics," Trump said.

Price had also been seen in the White House as having been ineffective in getting Congress to pass healthcare reform legislation, an effort that has fizzled on Capitol Hill.

Price was one of a handful of senior officials in Trump’s administration put on the defensive over reports about their use of charter flights and government aircraft, sometimes for personal travel, when they could have flown commercial for less money.

13 PHOTOS
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price
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Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tom Price (L) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney (r) speak to reporters after the Congressional Budget Office released its score on proposed Republican health care legislation at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price addresses the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price (C) and Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini (R) listen to U.S. President Donald Trump speak during a meeting with health insurance company CEOs at the White House in Washington, U.S. February 27, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) testifies before a Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be Health and Human Services secretary on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (L) and Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tom Price (C) meet with representatives of conservative political groups, including American Conservative Union Chairman Matthew Schlapp (R), to discuss their plans for repealing and replacing ObamaCare in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 10, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Rep. Tom Price gets into an elevator at Trump Tower, November 16, 2016 in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet positions for the new administration.

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (C) and Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tom Price (R) attend a cabinet meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) hands the pen to Representative Tom Price (R-GA) after signing a bill repealing Obamacare at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 7, 2016. The U.S. Congress on Wednesday approved legislation dismantling President Barack Obama's signature health care plan, putting on his desk an election-year measure that faces a certain veto.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Chairman of the House Budget Committee Tom Price (R-GA) announces the House Budget during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 17, 2015.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price (L) takes to the podium to address the daily press briefing as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer (R) steps aside at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Rep. Tom Price arrives at Trump Tower, November 16, 2016 in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet positions for the new administration.

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) (L) is welcomed by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) prior to testifying before a confirmation hearing on his nomination to be Health and Human Services secretary on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
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The White House issued an order late on Friday saying use of private planes required approval from White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and that the commercial air system was appropriate even for very senior officials with few exceptions.

The Washington Post on Friday reported that Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin attended a Wimbledon tennis match, toured Westminster Abbey and took a cruise on the Thames this summer during a 10-day trip to discuss veterans' health issues in Britain and Denmark.

Shulkin, who traveled on a commercial airline, was accompanied on the trip by his wife, whose airfare was paid for by the government and who received a per diem for meals, the Post said, noting that the Department of Veterans Affairs said she was traveling on "approved invitational orders."

His six-person traveling party included an acting undersecretary of health and her husband as well as two aides. They were accompanied by a security detail of as many as six people, the Post said.

Washington news media outlet Politico has reported that Price had taken at least two dozen private charter flights since May at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of more than $400,000. Politico also reported he took approved military flights to Africa and Europe costing $500,000.

Senior U.S. government officials travel frequently, but are generally expected to keep costs down by taking commercial flights or the train when possible.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Treasury Secretary SteveMnuchin have also been in the spotlight for their travel habits.

(Additional reporting by David Alexander, James Oliphant, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Toni Clarke; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Andrew Hay)

 

 

 

 

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