HHS Sec. Tom Price resigns amid travel controversy

by: Carl Willis Updated:

WASHINGTON - Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has resigned from his post. Price, the former Congressman from Georgia’s 6th District, had been trying to hang on to his job Friday amid continuing questions over his use of private charter flights on official business at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars.

In a letter to President Donald Trump, Price said: 

"It is an honor and privilege to serve you as the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Under your leadership, the Department is 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 opioids 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."

Channel 2's Carl Willis spoke to some of Price's former constituents. 

"I feel like they should fly Southwest or something coach, all of them, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian," Sandy Springs resident Coley Best said. 

Sandy Springs mayor and Price's friend Rusty Paul called the resignation a "tragedy," saying, "I fully support Tom and know that he will land successfully in a position in public service, continuing to support the community as he has done over the last three decades." 

DNC Chair Tom Perez said Price was traveling on the taxpayer's dime while "trying to rip healthcare away from millions." 

He said, "When you serve as a member of the president's cabinet, you're serving the American people, not yourself. Voters deserve better and they won't forget this administration's callous greed on Election Day."

Earlier in the day, President Trump teased a decision on Price's status to reporters, saying he would decide by the end of the day whether he might fire the secretary. He repeated that he was "not happy" about the secretary's travel, a position he first shared Wednesday.

"As a human being Tom Price is a very good man. I can tell you .... I didn't like it cosmetically or otherwise," Trump told reporters Friday. 

Trump was deeply frustrated with Price and has grown increasingly annoyed by the stream of reports about the health secretary's expensive air travel, according to three people familiar with Trump's private discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

He has also told people close to him that he believes Price's run of bad headlines stepped on the administration's launch of its tax plan. And he has told people he believes Price didn't do enough to sell the ill-fated GOP plan to "repeal and replace" the Obama health law.

Trump had considered firing Price, according to one of the people who have spoken to him in recent days. Trump often muses about dismissing underlings but does not always follow through.

Price's travels were first reported last week by Politico, which said cheaper commercial flights were a viable option in many cases. That prompted a review by the HHS inspector general's office to see if federal travel regulations were followed.

Price has been regarded as a conservative policy expert. He said his travel was approved by the department he heads. He said he'd write a personal check to reimburse taxpayers for his travel on charter flights taken on government business. And he pledged to fly commercial — "no exceptions."

The repayment — $51,887.31, according to Price's office — covers only the secretary's seat. Price did not address the overall cost of the flights, expected to be much higher.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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