If ObamaCare repeal is dead for now, despite Trump’s protests to the contrary, this would be a fine time for him to shed himself of Price’s embarrassing private-jet shenanigans. Why, in our country of 300+ million, I’ll be there’s literally … tens of people who’d want to be HHS secretary for an unpredictable president and a Senate Republican majority that can’t get to 50 votes on anything to reform health care.
Politico threw another grenade at Price over his jet travel last night although it was lost in the hubbub over the Alabama Senate race. In theory private jets should be chartered by government officials only if they need to be somewhere immediately, for important reasons, and there are no commercial routes that will get them there in time. In practice…
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price took a government-funded private jet in August to get to St. Simons Island, an exclusive Georgia resort where he and his wife own land, a day and a half before he addressed a group of local doctors at a medical conference that he and his wife have long attended…
The plane arrived in Brunswick at 4:02 p.m. the afternoon before the start of the two-day Medical Association of Georgia retreat and roughly 40 hours before Price addressed the group, according to airport records and people familiar with the event. At about the same time, there were connecting commercial flights from Raleigh to Brunswick via Atlanta that would have gotten Price to St. Simons Island that evening.
He also flew privately from D.C. to Nashville on June 6th round-trip for the low, low cost of $17,000 and change. Commercial flights departing and arriving at around the same time would have cost in the ballpark of $300. Trump’s stuck by him until now but this is obviously a bad look for a populist White House, especially with Steve Mnuchin’s use of government jets also being scrutinized. Just last night, Trey Gowdy sent Price a letter asking him to account for all jet travel by HHS employees as part of the Oversight Committee’s wider probe into the administration’s transportation habits. If other cabinet members turn out to have been following Price’s lead, this narrative will, er, take off.
The word from tapped-in reporters is that Price is in trouble:
Price had been seen in WH as weathering this till now, but admin officials tell me it's not clear how much longer https://t.co/1qMZvcOikg
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) September 27, 2017
Big problem in replacing him, though. A new HHS chief would need to be confirmed by the Senate and a Senate battle over health care right now would be a galactic clusterfark. Democrats will have a field day grilling the nominee on Trump’s flirtation with canceling ObamaCare’s cost-sharing subsidies, the Senate GOP’s plans to slash O-Care’s Medicaid expansion, and other unhappy subjects for Republicans. Is Trump so upset with Price that he’s willing to go through that? He could always fire him, let someone at the department take over as “interim” director, and then just sort of forget to nominate a replacement, which is what’s been happening at DHS ever since John Kelly moved over to chief of staff.
Here he is earlier today. Two months ago he joked that Price had better get the votes to repeal ObamaCare or he’d be fired. Gulp. By the way, I know a guy who’s well qualified to be HHS secretary, has some time on his hands right now, and might very well accept the job if offered. The only problem is that he once said Trump “looks like he’s got a squirrel sitting on his head.” Oh well.