Embattled Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price took flights to Europe aboard U.S. military jets that cost taxpayers more than $500,000 to operate – and brought his wife along for the trip.
The cost of Price’s international was revealed after his job was already on the line following revelations about his costly domestic jet travel on government-owned jets.
President Trump has said he is ‘not happy’ with the situation – and Price on Thursday agreed to pay back taxpayers $52,000 – the cost of his seats on the domestic flights, but not the total costs.
Price’s international trips about military jets bring his grand total to over $1 million since January. The trips were approved by the White House, which oversees travel by cabinet secretaries aboard military aircraft, Politico reported as it revealed the cost of the trips.
THIS MIGHT HURT A BIT: Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price (L) receives a flu shot administered by registered nurse Sharon Walsh-Bonadies (R) during an event on the importance of annual influenza prevention, at the National Press Club. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (l) refused to say that Price would keep his job in the administration
Price was accompanied by his wife, Betty, as he toured global capitals this spring to attend global health conferences. He flew to Berlin, Geneva, Beijing, Tokya, Ho Chi Minh City, as well as Liberia.
He used a C-37B aircraft for the trip, according to the report – a military version of a Gulfstream jet.
In another embarrassing disclosure indicating Price has adversaries within the administration, Buzzfeed reported that Price asked a White House official – only two months after Trump took office – to tell the president he wanted to reopen an executive dining room at HHS. He wanted to reconstitute the dining facility, which had been closed since the George W. Bush administration, a second source confirmed to the publication.
Former Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) stands with his wife Betty Price before being sworn in as the new Health and Human Services Secretary, on February 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. Betty Price accompanied Price on his trip to Europe this spring
Price undertook a damage control effort to try to save his job Thursday – releasing a statement saying he was done with government jets, agreeing to pay back some funds, and making his case on Fox News – a favorite network for the president, where he hailed Trump as a ‘remarkable leader.’
‘I work at the pleasure of the president. The president is a remarkable leader I’m incredibly privileged to serve in his cabinet and work on behalf of the American people,’ Price said.
‘We’re going through this process, we’re going to conduct a full review, and we’ll see what happens,’ White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
‘I look forward to regaining the trust that the American people, some of the American people may have lost in the activities that I took,’ he continued. ‘And to not only regain the trust of the American people but to gain the trust of the administration and the president.’
The White House refused to say Thursday that Price would keep his job in the administration amid ongoing probes of his use of government-provided jets.
‘I think the president’s addressed this yesterday,’ White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters at the Thursday press briefing at the White House. ‘We’re going through this process, we’re going to conduct a full review, and we’ll see what happens,’ Sanders said.
Thursday afternoon, HHS announced he was stopping all private jet travel and giving back funds spent to ferry him to appointments around the country.
‘To make sure everyone knows that I understand and appreciate this, and to make sure everyone knows that this will never happen again, I am taking the following steps,’ Price wrote.
‘My staff and I will continue to cooperate fully with the OIG and internal review. I will take no more private charter flights as Secretary of HHS. No exceptions.’
‘Today, I will write a personal check to the US Treasury for the expenses of my travel on private charter planes. The taxpayers won’t pay a dime for my seat on those planes,’ Price wrote.
Price got a flu shot at an event at the National Press club but left before taking questions amid the intense media scrutiny.
‘I think we’ve still got the full confidence of the president’ he told reporters who caught him outside.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is having his use of government jets examined by an inspector general as well as by the House Oversight committee
Sanders’ comments came a day after Trump let reporters know he was ‘not happy’ about the situation – and indicated he had told Price so himself.
‘I was looking into and will look into it, and I will tell you personally, I’m not happy about it, I am not happy about it,’ the president said when asked about Price as the president prepared to take a trip aboard Marine One en route to Indiana Wednesday.
‘I am not happy about it and I let him know it,’ Trump added.
‘As the president said yesterday, he’s not thrilled, definitely not happy,’ Sanders said when asked about it.
Price’s government jet tab not surpasses $1 million when military flights approved by the White House are included
‘The White House does not have a role on the front-end, of approving private charter flights at the agencies, and that’s something that we’re certainly looking into from this point forward, and have asked a halt be put, particularly at HHS, on any private charter flights moving forward, until those reviews are completed,’ she said.
An inspector general and a House committee are already looking at the conduct, and HHS is also conducting an internal review.
Sanders said the White House was looking at agency jet use generally.
When a reporter noted that counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway was aboard one flight with Price and whether the White House was aware, she responded: ‘I didn’t say we weren’t aware. I said the White House doesn’t authorize those private charter flights.’
Price is under fire for using government jets when he could have flown commercial
Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price speaks with reporters aboard Air Force One in flight during a trip with US President Donald Trump to Beaver, West Virginia, July 24, 2017.
Sanders also tried to take a shot at the Obama administration, whose cabinet officials have said they seldom if ever used charter corporate-style aircraft, pointing to the use of military aircraft.
‘When it comes to military aircraft, that’s a part where the White House does actually play a role. And on that front, the Trump administration has actually authorized far fewer flights for senior government officials than the Obama administration did during the same time period,’ she said.
‘And so we’re continuing to look at ways to bring that back, under the places where the White House has that direct control and authority, which is under military aircraft, which we’ve cut back significantly at this point,’ she said.
Price is already under fire for running up travel costs of more than $400,000 using government-owned corporate-style jets rather than flying commercial as he travels around the country.
NOT HAPPY: President Donald Trump said he is ‘not happy’ with the situation, which is under review by the White House, Congress, and an inspector general
Politico revealed that one trip was to the resort area of St. Simons Island in Georgia, where Price and his wife own property.
Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin got asked about the jet issue Thursday at the Washington Ideas Forum in Washington. The scrutiny picked up after his wife, Louise Linton, tweeted an image of herself de-boarding a government jet the two took to Kentucky, where Mnuchin viewed the total solar eclipse.
Asked if there were any new air travel rules, Mnuchin said: ‘I can tell you that no, there’s been no different directives as it relates to me … We’re going to have an IG audit. And I’m very comfortable that we followed all the proper procedures,’ Mnuchin said.
‘I’ve never had the government pay for any of my personal travel, and the limited number of times we’ve used [military air] it’s been for either security, national security issues, when I had to have secure communications … or where there’s been times we couldn’t get to places when we needed to be there,’ he said.