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Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigns after controversy over more than $400,000 in taxpayer-paid flights

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned Friday in the midst of an expanding controversy over spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money for private air flights.

His departure was announced in a terse statement by the White House.

"Secretary of Health and Human Services Thomas Price offered his resignation earlier today and the President accepted," the statement said.

Read Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s resignation letter None
Read Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s resignation letter

Price, a former congressman, was one of four Cabinet members facing questions about private and military airplane flights.

Until Friday night, he had been resisting Democratic calls for his firing. Politico had reported, in stories that unfolded over days, that Price had spent more than $400,000 on private domestic travel in recent months. He spent an additional half million dollars on military aircraft for events in Europe and Africa.

President Trump, asked outside the White House earlier Friday if he planned to fire Price, called him a “fine man” and said he would “make a decision sometime tonight."

“I certainly don't like the optics,” Trump said. “I'm not happy, I can tell you that. I'm not happy.”

Three other Cabinet members--Interior's Ryan Zinke, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and  Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt--also have taken multiple taxpayer-paid flights on private or military aircraft.

None of the three had cost taxpayers as much as Price. The secretary said Thursday that he would repay the government $52,000, a fraction of the cost of the flights.

The attention on costly flights for members of the Trump administration came amid other problems. Investigators on Capitol Hill were looking into the use of private emails for government work by officials including the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Puerto Rican officials, meantime, were lashing out at U.S. rescue efforts that were stalled or not reaching the neediest on the storm-ravaged island.

The criticism hit Trump at a difficult time, taking attention away from his newest endeavor, the tax plan he announced Wednesday in Indiana. Trump has been forced on defense at a time he could be building positive momentum that could boost his popularity and give him more power to pressure Congress his way.

That political danger underscored another: Trump’s presidential victory was powered by his contention that an outsider businessman sympathetic to overlooked Americans could conduct the government to their advantage, competently and efficiently. Central to that pitch was his promise to eradicate self-serving and self-dealing behavior—or, as his enthusiastic crowds put it often, to “Drain the Swamp.”

The multiple crises threaten to undercut him on all of those fronts, allowing opponents to redefine him as a president overlooking his own supporters while sanctioning behavior he once criticized.

 

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