Job in jeopardy, HHS chief promises to repay charter costs

Published Sept. 29, 2017

WASHINGTON — Fighting to keep his job, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said Thursday he'd write a personal check to reimburse taxpayers for his travel on charter flights taken on government business and pledged to fly commercial — "no exceptions."

The repayment — $51,887.31, according to Price's office — covered only the secretary's seat. Price did not address the overall cost of the flights, which could amount to more than $1 million, according to a report Thursday by Politico, which first reported the story. Price's flights are under investigation.

"I regret the concerns this has raised regarding the use of taxpayer dollars," Price said in a statement. "I was not sensitive enough to my concern for the taxpayer." His mea culpa came a day after a public rebuke from President Donald Trump.

A former congressman from Georgia regarded as a conservative policy expert, Price said he hopes to keep his Cabinet seat. At the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wouldn't go that far.

"We're going to conduct a full review and we'll see what happens," Sanders told reporters. Travel by other top officials is also attracting scrutiny.

Price said the president had personally let him know of his displeasure. "As he has said publicly, he wasn't happy, and he expressed that to me very clearly," Price said Thursday evening on Fox News.

All his travel was legally approved by officials at Health and Human Services, Price said. It amounted to 10 trips with 26 different segments.

On Wednesday Trump had declared that he's "not happy" over reports that Price flew on costly charters when he could have taken cheaper commercial flights. Asked whether he'd fire Price, Trump said, "We'll see."

Price told reporters Thursday, "I think we've still got the confidence of the president." About the controversy, he said, "We're going to work through this."

Taxpayers "won't pay a dime for my seat on those planes," Price said in his statement.

Price played a supporting role in the fruitless Republican effort to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law — another source of frustration for Trump.

Trips by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt have also drawn criticism.