Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned Friday afternoon, following his use of private and military planes for official travel.
Politico first uncovered Price’s use of private chartered flights in an investigation last week, and has since uncovered a total of more than $1 million in private and military flights taken by Price on the taxpayers’ dime.
As controversy brewed over the hefty bill, President Donald Trump slowly distanced himself from Price. “We’ll see” about his future in the Trump administration, the President said Wednesday. Speaking to reporters Friday afternoon, Trump said he would make an announcement regarding Price “today,” and said “I think he’s a fine person,” but “I certainly don’t like the optics.”
On Sept. 19, Politico reported on five private charter flights scheduled for Price between Sept. 13 and 15. Within days, the publication reported many more such flights. Congressional Democrats demanded answers, and the HHS inspector general and House Oversight Committee announced that they would look into the matter.
Price said in a press release Thursday that he would cease his use of private jet travel and reimburse the U.S. Treasury for the cost of “my seat” on the flights, though it was presumably on Price’s order that the flights were booked in the first place. An HHS spokesperson told TPM that Price had committed to paying $51,887.31 for “his seats.”
The same spokesperson did not respond to TPM’s questions Friday on whether Price still intended to make good on his commitment to the treasury.
Two other administration officials have recently been revealed to have used private charter flights and military flights using taxpayer money: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.
Before his nomination as health secretary, Price was known for his drive to deregulate the medical field. At the time of his nomination, he was a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. The group has said it aims “to fight socialized medicine and to fight the government takeover of medicine,” and it publishes a journal that has included articles on the mythic links between vaccines and autism, and abortion and breast cancer, among other things.
During his nomination hearings, Price was embroiled in another scandal involving the misuse of his position as a public servant: Price received a discount on thousands of dollars worth of shares in Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian firm attempting to break into the American market, leading to a potential conflict of interest given then-Rep. Price’s ability to influence the regulatory process.
The White House said in a statement that Trump would name Don J. Wright the acting secretary for HHS.
In his resignation letter, Price did not apologize for his use of private air travel. Instead, he said “I regret that the recent events have created a distraction” from his policy priorities.
“Success on these issues is more important than any one person,” Price wrote. “In order for you to move forward without further disruption, I am officially tendering my resignation as the Secretary of Health and Human Services effective 11:59 PM on Friday, September 29, 2017.”
Read Tom Price’s full resignation letter below:
Dear Mr. President:
It is an honor and privilege to serve you as the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Under your leadership, the Department of working aggressively to improve the health and well-being of all Americans. This includes working to reform a broken health care system, empower patients, reduce regulatory burdens, ensure global health security, and tackle clinical priorities such as the opioid epidemic, serious mental illness and childhood obesity.
I have spent forty years both as a doctor and public servant putting people first. I regret that the recent events have created a distraction from these important objectives.
Success on these issues is more important than any one person. In order for you to move forward without further disruption, I am officially tendering my resignation as the Secretary of Health and Human Services effective 11:59 PM on Friday, September 29, 2017.
You may rest assured that I will continue to support your critical priorities going ahead because failure is not an option for the American people.
Thomas E. Price, M.D.
This post has been updated.