President Trump’s Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney sent a memo to agency heads, telling them the White House must approve travel following the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Thomas Price on Friday due to a scandal over the cost of his travel on private jets.
The White House said Mr. Price submitted his resignation Friday and President Trump accepted. That same day, Mr. Mulvaney sent the memo to executive branch leaders to remind them of travel policies, saying travel must be approved by the White House Chief of Staff and that more guidance on the approval process will be forthcoming.
“It was unfortunate what happened with Dr. Price, but what the president is telling everybody is: It’s not going to happen again,” Mr. Mulvaney said on “Fox News Sunday” about his memo.
The president will designate Don Wright as acting secretary; he is currently a deputy assistant secretary at HHS.
Earlier on Friday, Mr. Trump said he was “not happy” with the perception that his Cabinet member was wasting tax money on private jet flights.
“I was disappointed, because I didn’t like it cosmetically or otherwise,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House. “This is an administration that saves hundreds of millions of dollars on renegotiating things, on new trade deals. I don’t like to see somebody that perhaps there’s the perception that it wasn’t right.”
Mr. Price said Thursday he was writing a personal check for $52,000 to the government to cover the cost of his seat on several private jet flights that he took in recent months as part of his official duties — but that didn’t save his job.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who worked with Mr. Price when he was a GOP lawmaker from Georgia, called the departing secretary “a good man.”
“He has spent his entire adult life fighting for others, first as a physician and then as a legislator and public servant,” Mr. Ryan said. “He was a leader in the House and a superb health secretary. His vision and hard work were vital to the House’s success passing our health care legislation. I will always be grateful for Tom’s service to this country and, above all, his continued friendship.”
But Democrats said the resignation shows that Mr. Trump isn’t living up to his promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington, and called on the GOP to wage more effective oversight on the administration.
“Today, yet another of his top officials has resigned in disgrace,” said Rep. David N. Cicilline, Rhode Island Democrat and a member of House Democratic leadership. “Enough is enough. Republicans in Congress have given Donald Trump and his administration a blank check to do whatever they want. It’s long past time for them to work with Democrats to conduct real oversight that prevents this type of abuse. Looking the other way cannot be tolerated a single moment longer.”
Mr. Cicilline said Mr. Price should repay taxpayers for the full cost of the private flights, not just for his seat.
“Partial repayments are not enough to erase the damage he has done,” he said.
Mr. Price and Democrats had a bitter relationship from the start.
During his confirmation process, liberal senators faulted him for trading hundreds of thousands of dollars in health-related stocks, even as he oversaw legislation that could affect those companies.
Senior Republicans rallied to his defense, saying Mr. Price had disclosed his trades and was being smeared for political purposes.
Still, his downfall is a remarkable turnaround from February, when Vice President Mike Pence called Mr. Price “the most principled expert on health care policy” during his swearing-in ceremony.
Mr. Price oversaw a massive portfolio at HHS, from insuring roughly 120 million poor, disabled and elderly Americans to approving life-saving drugs and beating back health scourges such as the mosquito-borne Zika virus and the opioid epidemic.
Yet carrying out the GOP’s plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act was his No. 1 task. He swiftly moved to slash the 2018 enrollment period in half and tighten up sign-up rules, something insurers wanted, yet fast-track legislation designed to smooth the way for market-oriented moves at HHS sputtered out in Congress.
Over the summer, as the Senate took its first of two ill-fated swings at repeal, Mr. Trump offered an ominous warning for his health secretary at a Boy Scout rally in West Virginia.
If Mr. Price failed to pin down the votes, the president declared, “I’ll say, ‘Tom, you’re fired.’”
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