WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Donald Trump’s embattled health minister was forced to leave the US administration on Friday (Sept 29), amid a scandal over his use of costly private jets for government travel.
“Secretary of Health and Human Services Thomas Price offered his resignation earlier today and the president accepted,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.
The announcement came less than an hour after Trump told reporters that Price had not offered to resign, but that his fate would be decided later on Friday.
“The President intends to designate Don J. Wright of Virginia to serve as Acting Secretary, effective at 11.59pm on Sept 29, 2017,” Sanders said.
Wright is currently deputy assistant secretary for health.
For days, Price has battled to keep a position he has held for less than eight months.
In all, Price has flown on 26 separate trips this year on private aircraft, totaling some US$400,000 (S$543,000), according to Politico.
He had tried to put a lid on the scandal by paying back what turned out to be a fraction of the cash spent.
The trips were for government business, Price’s department said, but some of the flights were to destinations where Price owns property, or where he met relatives.
In his resignation letter Price said it was an “honor and privilege” to serve in Trump’s administration.
“I have spent forty years both as a doctor and public servant putting people first,” he wrote. “I regret that the recent events have created a distraction from these important objectives.”
Trump had earlier indicated that Price’s job was hanging by a thread.
“We’ll be announcing something today,” Trump said. “I don’t like the optics.”
He added: “I’m not happy, I can tell you I’m not happy.”
Trump described the former congressman as “a very fine person”, adding that for some Cabinet secretaries it was not a problem because they have their own planes.
It has been revealed that other cabinet secretaries – including Treasury’s Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt – have also contracted private or military jets while in office. Their fate now appears to be unclear.
Price is the most senior ranking official to be forced out of the administration, although he’s far from the first.
Since Trump became president in January, he has parted ways with his national security advisor, FBI director, chief of staff, press secretary, chief strategist and two communications directors.