US secretary of health and human services, Tom Price has become the newest senior official to leave the Trump administration. He resigned Friday under unrelenting fire for using chartered flights for official travel.
Price had worked up a bill of $400,000 and had sought to offset it with an offer of $52,000, a payment for his own seat on those flights. But that was clearly not enough to mollify the president, who had made no attempt to conceal his displeasure.
“I’m not happy, okay,” President Donald Trump said to reporters earlier Friday when asked about Price, “And, you know, this is an administration that saves hundreds of millions of dollars on renegotiating things, on new trade deals…”
The White House announced shortly after Price “offered his resignation earlier today and the President accepted”, and that the president intended to designate Don J Wright as acting secretary, effective September 29.
And that was yet another churn of personnel in the Trump administration following the exits, so far, of a National Security Adviser, two communications directors, a chief of staff, a press secretary/spokesperson and a chief strategist.
But Price was the first cabinet member to go. Three others are also facing scrutiny for their travels. One of them is alleged to have used a military plane to fly to a government mint in Kentucky that offered a good view of the recent solar eclipse.
And there are still others who have earned the president’s ire for criticising him publicly — such as the chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, who angered Trump for calling out his ambivalence after the racial clashes in Charlottesville.
There is then the attorney general Jeff Sessions, who had been at the receiving end of a very long and very public rebuke from the president for recusing himself from the Russia probe. He has since survived and even earned from rare praise from Trump.
A former Congressman from Georgia, Price had built a reputation as a fiscal hawk and a committed opponent of Obamacare, which he was expected to help kill, but which remains in force despite repeated attempts.
The president has felt extremely frustrated about the failure to repeal and replace his predecessor’s healthcare reform law that has been at the top of every Republican’s hit-list since its enactment in 2010.
Already in trouble with the president thus, Price was hit by a spate of stories in Politico news website about his extravagant travels — 26 flights on chartered planes in all, and mostly between cities with scores of less expensive connections.
And he merrily mixed official with non-official. Politico reported a chartered flight Price took to Nashville where he “toured a medicine dispensary, spoke to a local health summit organised by a friend and had lunch with his son”.
The health secretary also flew abroad in military aircraft, which, according to reports cost more than $500,000. But they were cleared by the White House, which, however, had not approved his expensive domestic travels.
THE TRUMP MOWER
National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, a retired general and an early Trump supporter, was the first to be ousted from the White House after he lied to the vice-president about his contacts with Russian officials. He left in February, less than a month in office. The president continued to say good things about him, however, and allegedly tried to end the FBI probe into his contacts with Russians.
Next to go was deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh, in March. She left to lead an outside pro-Trump outfit to support the president’s agenda. She was a close ally of then chief of staff Reince Priebus, going back to their stint at the Republican National Committee which Priebus had headed for years.
Brought in as communications director in March to shape the White House media strategy, Michael Dubke left just three months later in May, reportedly on amicable terms. He said he was leaving for “personal” reasons.
After a tumultuous six months as White House press secretary, Sean Spicer quit in July when the president decided to bring on board Anthony Scaramucci, a New York financier, as communications director.
Long rumoured as the man behind the throne, Steve Bannon, the chief strategist, left the administration in the aftermath of the Charlottesville racial clashes.