Health Secretary Tom Price resigns amid private-plane controversy

The White House announced Friday that President Trump had accepted the resignation of beleaguered Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

Press secretary Sarah Sanders released a statement saying that Price had submitted his resignation earlier Friday and Trump had accepted it. She added that Don J. Wright of Virginia, deputy assistant secretary for health and director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, will take over as acting head of Health and Human Services, now the second Cabinet department without a permanent confirmed secretary, following John Kelly’s move from Homeland Security to White House chief of staff.

Price wrote in his resignation letter that he regretted “that the recent events have created a distraction from these important objectives.”

According to his bio at HHS, Wright began working there in 2007 as principal deputy assistant secretary for health. He is a physician with a medical degree from the University of Texas.

Politico reported earlier in September that Price had been chartering private planes for travel, breaking a precedent with previous Health and Human Services chiefs. Among the flights was a $25,000 trip from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia — a trip that takes 2.5 hours driving or 90 minutes via Amtrak — and an $18,000 visit to Nashville that included 90 minutes of work and a lengthy lunch with his son.

Price released a statement Thursday saying he would repay the treasury for the flights, but his department later told media outlets that he would pay just the prorated cost of his own seats — about $52,000 — not the whole expense of the charters, which cost more than $400,000. (He was generally accompanied by aides and security personnel who flew with him.) Following his statement, Politico further reported that Price had spent an additional $500,000 of taxpayer funds using military planes while traveling with his wife in Europe and Asia.

As a congressman, Price consistently attacked what he called wasteful spending by Democrats, including criticizing then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for “flying over our country in a private jet.” Twitter users have spent the past few days surfacing old tweets from Price’s time as a legislator, in which he posed as a relentless guardian of the public purse.

President Trump with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in the Oval Office in March. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, file)

“Reckless spending habits employed by Democrats in Washington are driving the debt,” wrote then-Rep. Price in 2011. “We need #spendingcutsnow.”

“If you can’t budget, you can’t govern,” wrote Price in 2010.

Price has also been criticized for profiting off the trading of medical stock that his congressional votes directly influenced. Asked if Price’s job was in jeopardy on Thursday, Sanders said, “We’ll see what happens.” The Associated Press reported earlier Friday that Trump had begun calling Price a “distraction.”

Price was appointed by Trump after more than a decade in Congress, where he represented Georgia’s Sixth District. He served as chair of the House Budget Committee from 2015 to 2017.

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