Donald Trump's Health Secretary Tom Price has resigned, the White House has announced, after the US president made his displeasure clear over a scandal regarding private jet travel.
Mr Price is the latest official to depart Mr Trump's controversy-ridden administration, which in nine months has seen the dramatic oustings of the President's FBI chief and National Security Adviser, as well as the resignations of multiple advisers and members of the White House communications team.
Mr Price was already in hot water for Republicans' several failed attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare, otherwise known as the Affordable Care Act. But his job as head of the administration's Health and Human Services department began to be threatened following a slew of reports about his extensive use of charter aircraft.
According to Politico, Mr Price racked up at least $400,000 in travel bills for chartered flights, undermining Mr Trump’s campaign promise to "drain the swamp".
Mr Trump reportedly feared these revelations undercut his promise to expel everything his supporters hated about Washington: lobbying, corruption and entitled bureaucrats.
On Thursday, Mr Price had apparently tried to defuse the President's anger by agreeing to reimburse the government $51,887 for his past use of private jets. However, that didn't appear to work.
"I certainly don't like the optics," Mr Trump said on Friday before Mr Price's resignation. "I'm not happy, I can tell you that. I'm not happy." The President said he would decide whether to fire the secretary by the end of the day.
Mr Price is not the only member of Mr Trump's cabinet to have come under fire for using private chartered flights or government aircraft to travel for work. Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have also been scrutinised for such conduct. In some cases, cheaper commercial flights were available, but the officials opted against them.
In the wake of Mr Price's resignation, the White House sought to crackdown on government officials using charter aircraft. In a memo to government agencies, White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney said commercial air travel is “appropriate” with few exceptions even for very senior officials, and the use of chartered aircraft must be approved in advance by the White House chief of staff, John Kelly.
Mr Trump made clear that Mr Price's use of private jets went against his promise to save the government money.
In his resignation letter to the President, Mr Price said that under Mr Trump's leadership, the Department of Health and Human Services was working "to reform a broken health care system, empower patients, [and] reduce regulatory burdens", among other tasks.
"I regret that the recent events have created a distraction from these important objectives," Mr Price wrote. "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".
The President intends to designate Don Wright of Virginia to serve as Acting Secretary of HHS, the White House said. Mr Wright currently serves as the deputy assistant secretary for health, and director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
From his perch at HHS – Mr Price – a former congressman who long opposed Obamacare – had been leading the drive to overhaul former President Barack Obama's healthcare law.
In July, Mr Trump joked that he would fire Mr Price if he did not get the votes for an Obamacare repeal bill. "He better get them," Mr Trump told an audience while standing close to the secretary. "Otherwise, I’ll say, 'Tom, you’re fired.'"
But as Republicans continued to fail in their attempts to get rid of the law, Mr Trump was reportedly fuming about Mr Price over the unsuccessful efforts, according to the New York Times. The most recent drive to undo Obamacare collapsed this week, after Senate Republicans were again unable to muster enough support to pass legislation.
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