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US health secretary resigns over private flights & Trump criticism

September 29th, 2017 | Tags:
The White House said Tom Price offered his resignation and Trump accepted it. Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA
THE GUARDIAN

The health and human services secretary Tom Price has resigned under pressure, 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 EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, interior secretary Ryan Zinke and veterans affairs director David Shulkin – had undermined Donald Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” of corruption in Washington.

Price, already at odds with the president after repeated Republican failures to repeal the Affordable Care Act, had come under serious fire for spending so much money on private flights instead of commercial travel. On Thursday, Price 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.

“I’m not happy, OK?” Trump said, before departing Washington to spend the weekend at his New Jersey golf club. “I can tell you, I’m 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.

Before becoming health secretary, Price was a Republican congressman for a district covering suburban Atlanta. On Friday, House speaker Paul Ryan called him a “good man” who has “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 House’s success passing our healthcare legislation. I will always be grateful for Tom’s service to this country and, above all, his continued friendship.”

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer criticized Price’s determination to repeal the ACA and called on Trump to select someone who would work to improve the law rather than dismantle it.

Schumer said: “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.”

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