AP sources: Price travel becoming a distraction for Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has been telling associates that his health chief has become a distraction, overshadowing his agenda and undermining his campaign promise to “drain the swamp” of corruption in Washington, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is engulfed in a controversy about his use of costly chartered planes on government business. Price’s public regrets and his partial repayment don’t seem to have calmed the furor.

Two people familiar with Trump’s private discussions, but not authorized to speak publicly, told The Associated Press on Friday that the president is deeply frustrated.

Trump has grown steadily annoyed by the constant reports of Price’s expensive air travel, which undercut his promise to take on Washington corruption.

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

Trump has considered firing Price but has not yet committed to doing so, according to a person who has spoken to him in recent days.

Trump often muses about dismissing underlings but does not always follow through. His declaration of “we’ll see” when asked by reporters if he would fire Price was similar to the non-committal answer he gave about Steve Bannon’s fate just days before the White House chief strategist was ousted this summer.

Fighting to keep his job, Price said Thursday he’ll write a personal check to reimburse taxpayers for his travel on charter flights taken on government business. 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, which could amount to several hundred thousand dollars and is under investigation.

“I regret the concerns this has raised regarding the use of taxpayer dollars,” Price said in a statement. “I was not sensitive enough to my concern for the taxpayer.” His mea culpa came a day after a public rebuke from Trump.

A former congressman from Georgia regarded as a conservative policy expert, Price said he hopes to work things out with Trump and keep his Cabinet seat.

But Trump allies have wondered if Price will become the fall guy during a rough stretch for the president.

Though Trump has told people close to him that he believes he has found a winning issue in attacking NFL players who kneel during the national anthem, he’s angry over the latest Republican failure to overturn “Obamacare” and irritated that he felt pressured into backing the losing candidate in the Alabama Senate primary this week.

Though much of Trump’s anger about the health care failure has been aimed at the Republican-controlled Congress, he assigns some of the blame to Price, who he believes did not do a good job of selling the GOP plan. He mused aloud in a speech to a gathering of Boy Scouts in July that he would fire Price if the health bill did not pass, a line that was largely taken as a joke at the time.

The perception of Price jetting around while GOP lawmakers labored to repeal “Obamacare” —including a three-nation trip in May to Africa and Europe— raised eyebrows on Capitol Hill. Price flew on military aircraft overseas.

On Wednesday, Trump declared that he’s “not happy” about reports that Price flew on costly charters when he could have taken cheaper commercial flights. Asked whether he’d fire Price, Trump said, “We’ll see.”

Prompted partly by controversy over Price, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has opened a wide-ranging investigation into travel by Trump’s political appointees. On Wednesday the committee sent requests for detailed travel records to the White House and 24 departments and agencies, dating back to the president’s first day in office.

The HHS inspector general’s office is conducting its own review of Price’s travel, to see if it complied with federal regulations.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke also face questions about their travel.

Price’s travels were first reported last week by Politico, which said cheaper commercial flights were a viable option in many cases.

Price, an ally of House Speaker Paul Ryan, is a past chairman of the House Budget Committee, where he was a frequent critic of wasteful spending. As HHS secretary, he has questioned whether the Medicaid health insurance program for low-income people delivers results that are worth the billions of dollars taxpayers spend for the coverage. He’s a former orthopedic surgeon who once practiced in an inner-city hospital.

We welcome thoughts and comments from our viewers. We ask that everyone keep their remarks civil and respectful. Postings that contain profanity, racist, or potentially libelous remarks will be deleted. We will delete any commercial postings, as well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s