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Tom Price Out at HHS Amid Reports of Pricey Charter Travel

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price speaks during a Cabinet meeting with President Trump on June 12, 2017, at the White House. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON — Shortly after President Trump promised reporters a decision tonight on the fate of his Health and Human Services secretary, the White House announced that Tom Price, in hot water for pricey private jet travel, has resigned.

The brief administration announcement said Price, a physician and former Georgia congressman confirmed to the post in February, “offered his resignation earlier today and the president accepted.”

“The president intends to designate Don J. Wright of Virginia to serve as Acting Secretary, effective at 11:59 p.m. on September 29, 2017,” the statement added. “Mr. Wright currently serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health and Director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.”

Politico found that Price had taken at least 26 charter flights since May, racking up more than $400,000 in costs to taxpayers; further reporting hiked that price tag to more than $1 million. One flight to Philadelphia cost $25,000. As the story grew this week, Price offered to settle the matter by cutting a check to the government of just over $50,000.

Late this afternoon on the White House lawn, fielding a few questions from reporters en route to his golf club in New Jersey, Trump promised a decision on Price tonight.

“He’s a very fine man,” Trump said. “I certainly don’t like the optics. I’m not happy, I can tell you that. I’m not happy.”

Price told Fox News on Thursday night that Trump told him “very clearly” he “wasn’t happy” with how the story looked.

“I think what the important point here is that all of these trips were official business. All of them were within budget. All of them were approved by the normal processes that every other administration has gone through prior to the trip, not after,” he said. “But we have heard concerns. I’ve heard the concerns. I’ve heard the criticisms. And in order to make certain people appreciate that my respect for the taxpayer is as strong as it can be and always has been in my 40-year career, we think it’s important to do a number of things.”

“One is to say there will be no private air charters at HHS going forward. Second is to cooperate fully, obviously, with the inspector general. There is a review going on and then I called for an internal review within the department itself. And then finally, to pay for my portion of those trips,” Price added. “This is unprecedented, never been done to our understanding, before by a secretary in spite of the fact that previous administrations have had secretaries that flew an awful lot.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters this week that Trump was “not thrilled, certainly not happy with the actions” and the administration was “definitely looking at the issue.”

“We’re going to conduct a full review and we’ll see what happens,” she said.

Price told Fox he worked “at the pleasure of the president.”

“The president is a remarkable leader. I’m incredibly privileged to serve in his cabinet and work on behalf of the American people,” he said. “And I look forward to gaining — regaining the trust that the American people, some of the American people may have lost in the activities that I took. And to not only regain the trust of the American people but gain the trust of the administration, the president.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) responded to the news by noting “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,” Schumer added.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) issued a statement calling Price “a good man” who “has spent his entire adult life fighting for others, first as a physician and then as a legislator and public servant.”

“He was a leader in the House and a superb health secretary,” Ryan said. “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.”