Scandals and unfilled positions continue to plague the Trump administration as another senior cabinet member resigns.
On September 29, US Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price was forced to resign after a series of stories by Politico revealed his extensive use of taxpayer money to fund his private and work travel. The trips, Price claimed, were all business-related, while also acknowledging how dubious it appeared. “The optics in some of this don’t look good,” he admitted. “I regret that the recent events have created a distraction from these important objectives,” Price wrote in his resignation letter. “You may rest assured that I will continue to support your critical priorities going ahead because failure is not an option for the American people.”
The trips, out of the 26 discovered since May, included a charter flight from Washington, DC, to Philadelphia and another to St. Simons Island in Georgia, where he and his wife own property. Additionally, the White House approved the use of military planes for Price’s trips abroad with his wife this summer, while other staff members flew commercially. In attempts to soothe the public outrage, Price slyly pledged to reimburse only the costs of his own seat, which was a little over $52,000. This was far beneath the total amount he cost taxpayers, which exceeded $1 million.
On Friday, budget director Mick Mulvaney sent a letter to officials stating the obvious: “Every penny we spend comes from the taxpayer. We thus owe it to the taxpayer to work as hard managing that money wisely as the taxpayer must do it to earn it in the first place,” he wrote. “Put another way, just because something is legal doesn’t make it right.”
Price’s exit is just the latest of a slew of resignations and firings that have plagued the Trump administration in its first year. The administration has already lost or fired its chief strategist, its chief of staff, a national security adviser, a press secretary, a deputy chief of staff, two communications directors, an FBI director and numerous other advisers.
Price is also not the only senior official who has flown on the public’s dime. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is currently being investigated over a flight to Fort Knox, Kentucky, with his wife Louise Linton in August. The trip made headlines after Linton posted an Instagram picture of the couple arriving in style. Mnuchin also made a request, which he later withdrew, for a private jet for his honeymoon.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke chartered a flight owned by oil and gas executives to Montana, near his home. Scott Pruitt, in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency, has frequently flown to his home state of Oklahoma as well as overseas, such as his trip to Italy for an international summit. Conversely, Betsy DeVos, the wealthy secretary of education, has traveled on her own personal aircraft. And Price’s HHS predecessors under President Barack Obama, Kathleen Sebelius and Sylvia Mathews Burwell, always flew commercial during their tenures.
Ethical concerns have been raised about Price before. During his confirmation hearing at the beginning of the year, Senate Democrats interrogated him on shares he owned in various medical companies while still a member of Congress. For instance, as Vox reported, Price had previously invested more than $300,000 in stocks of more than 40 health care companies.
The Trump administration has been tied to a litany of malfeasance, the last of which has been mixing pleasure with government duties. And in accordance with all that is lamentable about President Donald Trump, he has showed little desire to do much about it. Strikingly, though, he seems particularly perturbed with Price. Just last week, Trump expressed his frustration, both publicly and privately. He told White House reporters: “I will tell you personally, I’m not happy about it.” And, according to The New York Times, the president told a person close to him that “he reserves the right to fire ” Price if “new revelations come to light.” On stage at an annual Boy Scout Jamboree in July, Trump also joked that he would have Price fired if he failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
During Price’s brief tenure, he and the president never established a close relationship, as Politico notes. Initially, Price drew Trump’s attention as a congressman and member of the Tea Party for his staunch criticism of the ACA. Yet once in office, he was unable to modify the country’s health care system or garner any other concrete accomplishment for that matter. He did manage to reduce funding for advertising and other outreach efforts for ACA enrollment and had plans to shut down the ACA website during the middle of the open enrollment period this season as well.
It should not come as a surprise that yet another staff position in the Trump administration is now vacant. Less than a year in, it is clear that the president has failed to set any ethical standards for his administration because he himself has showed a complete disregard for following any as well.
*[This article was updated on October 4, 2017.]
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