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HHS Secretary Tom Price Resigns Over Charter Plane Travel


Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has resigned after mounting pressure and criticism over his use of private charter and military jets for work travel at public expense. NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro joins us.

Domenico, thanks very much for being with us.


SIMON: The president had joked - or maybe he didn't joke when he spoke to the Boy Scouts earlier this year - that he would fire Tom Price if the health care bill didn't pass. So how surprised should we really be?

MONTANARO: (Laughter) Well, Price was fired for a different reason, ostensibly, than the health care bill not passing. But, Scott, I don't think we should be surprised by anything anymore (laughter) in this age. But, you know - and plus, it was kind of a strange criticism given that Price isn't somebody who would be going and getting actual votes. But, you know, this private plane scandal became too much.

SIMON: Well, take us back a little bit. How did the revelations lead to the quick resignation?

MONTANARO: Well, a red alert went off for me the other day, on Wednesday, when Trump was asked if he was going to fire Price. And he said, we'll see and that he was not happy about the private plane situation. Price tried to make it go away by saying he'd write a check for his seat on the plane, which amounted to about $52,000 as compared to what Politico had reported was anywhere between $400,000 and $1,000,000 worth of private plane rides. Of course, that includes staffers and others. And that wasn't enough for the president.

Cable news coverage was still pretty bad to be perfectly honest. He's also trying to pass a tax cut plan where they're trying to argue that there are going to be middle-class tax cuts. And they're kind of losing the PR battle on that. And the last thing they needed was to have a situation where you have a Cabinet secretary flying around on private planes...

SIMON: Yeah.

MONTANARO: ...At taxpayer expense. So it was a pretty good bet that something like this could happen on a Friday afternoon.

SIMON: And Domenico, of course, there are several members of the Cabinet - members of the Trump administration have used private or military planes for travel. Are we going to see a sequence of resignations?

MONTANARO: You know, it depends, I think, on what you wind up seeing - I really frankly think - when it comes to cable news coverage. If that becomes something that dominates the airwaves, if the questions persist and continue at the briefing rooms when it comes to these other Cabinet members - you're talking about Scott Pruitt who had taken a plane and some others. And, you know, I think that that is really what winds up influencing this president almost more than anything else. And right now what's dominating news coverage are those tweets from the president about Puerto Rico, and I have a feeling that that's what's going to be dominating.

SIMON: New guidance has been issued by the White House for official travel. What will this mean?

MONTANARO: Right. Well, I think that this shows that the new White House chief of staff, John Kelly, is fully in charge and putting his stamp on things because any private plane travel now, by any administration official, has to be approved by the White House chief of staff. That's really something.

SIMON: Tom Price gave up a pretty sure seat in Congress.

MONTANARO: (Laughter) Sure did.

SIMON: Anything on the horizon - well, he's a physician, isn't he? I guess he goes back into - can go back into private practice.

MONTANARO: He could go into private practice. But remember, with how he got some of this money that - I mean, think about it. I don't know if I could pay $52,000 in a check. I don't think I could. You know, a lot of that had to do with the scandal when it came to insider trading. And I think you could wind up seeing Price wind up on some kind of board, a health board, something like that - a pharmaceutical company. But yes, $50 million was spent on that Georgia congressional race, and now he's gone.

SIMON: NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thanks very much for being with us.

MONTANARO: You're so welcome. Thanks as always. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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