Trump 'Not Happy' With U.S. Health Chief Price Over Private Travel

Susan Cornwell and Jeff Mason

September 27, 2017

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he was “not happy” with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price amid reports he used expensive private charter jets to travel for government business rather than cheaper commercial flights.

Asked if he would fire Price, Trump told reporters: “We’ll see.”

The House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee opened an investigation on Wednesday into travel by top officials. The panel wrote to the White House and 24 federal agencies requesting information about senior officials’ aircraft use.

Asked if he had confidence in Price after the reports on his travel, Trump said: “I am looking at that very closely. I am not happy with it. I will tell you I am not happy with it.”

Price has taken at least two dozen private charter flights since May at a cost to taxpayers of about $300,000, according to Politico, which first reported the travel.

There was no immediate comment from HHS.

On Friday, the HHS inspector general said it “is conducting a review of Secretary Price’s government travel using chartered aircraft. The review focuses on whether the travel complied with Federal Travel Regulations, but may encompass other issues related to the travel,” said Tesia Williams, a spokeswoman.

As a U.S. lawmaker in 2009, Price chastised “the fiscal irresponsibility” of private plane use by government officials in an appearance on CNBC television that he also posted on Twitter.

Another top official, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, is facing scrutiny over his use of a government plane to fly to Kentucky for a visit to Louisville and Fort Knox in Kentucky.

Mnuchin and his wife viewed the solar eclipse during the trip.

The House committee’s announcement followed calls for a probe by its top Democrat, Representative Elijah Cummings. He wrote to Price last week requesting documents related to Price’s flights.

“The amount of taxpayer funds you reportedly spent on just one single flight earlier this month is more than some of my constituents make in an entire year,” Cummings wrote to Price.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, said: “I know the HHS inspector general is looking at this and I’ll wait for the report before I comment further.”

Asked if action should be taken against Price, Republican Senator Johnny Isakson, the senior senator from Price’s home state of Georgia, said: “I think that’s the president’s prerogative for any member of the Cabinet.”

Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Eric Walsh; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Peter Cooney