Trump fuming over Price’s charter flights
President Donald Trump and his top aides are fuming over Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s use of expensive private jets, with some advisers privately calling for Price’s ouster.
Trump rebuked Price Wednesday in sharp terms but declined to bat down speculation that the HHS chief could be fired for his lavish spending of taxpayer dollars.
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“We’ll see,” the president told reporters when asked if Price would stay in his job.
“I was looking into it, and I will look into it. And I will tell you personally, I’m not happy about it,” Trump said. “I am not happy about it. I’m going to look at it. I am not happy about it, and I let him know it.”
POLITICO has revealed that Price has flown 26 times on private aircraft since last May at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, a break with the practice of his predecessors, who generally took commercial flights.
Some Trump advisers are urging Trump to get rid of Price, according to three people familiar with the conversations.
“His conduct is pretty much indefensible,” one senior administration official said. “I don’t know how you defend it.”
White House officials said Trump was shocked by Price’s behavior, especially because he nurtured a reputation as a fiscal conservative during his time as a House lawmaker.
Two administration officials said the steady drumbeat of reports on Price’s travel have made the issue impossible to ignore.
The president is annoyed with cable news coverage of Price’s travel, one of these people said. “He goes, ‘Why did he do this, it makes no sense,’” the official said.
Administration officials cautioned that Trump’s anger at Price may not translate to his ouster. Price is the latest Trump administration official to get on the president’s bad side. Everybody from National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has run afoul of the president.
While several high-profile officials have been pushed out of the administration, others have made their way back into the president’s good graces. Officials also noted that, despite the public image he earned as the star of The Apprentice, Trump is often reluctant to fire people. And he sometimes takes weeks to make a final decision.
But Price was already on thin ice before the jet stories broke. Trump and other senior administration officials have complained that he wasn’t effective in wooing House members on the Hill for Obamacare repeal initiatives, one of the reasons the former House Republicans was tapped for the job.
Price has also been absent for several Oval Office meetings where repealing the law was discussed. Many of the meetings on Capitol Hill were instead led by Vice President Mike Pence, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Director Seema Verma, or Marc Short, the legislative affairs head.
Additionally, Trump, who cares deeply about personal chemistry, does not have a close connection with Price, one of the administration officials said. Few senior White House officials have been willing to defend him this week.