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Sunday 19 November 2017

US health secretary quits after Trump angered by charter flights controversy

Tom Price angered Donald Trump when he used charter flights instead of flying with commercial airlines (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/PA)
Tom Price angered Donald Trump when he used charter flights instead of flying with commercial airlines (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/PA)

Donald Trump's health secretary has resigned after his costly travel triggered investigations that overshadowed the administration's agenda and angered the US president.

Health and human services secretary Tom Price became the first member of the president's Cabinet to be pushed out in an administration that has seen several high-ranking White House aides ousted.

A former GOP congressman from the Atlanta suburbs, Mr Price served just eight months.

Mr Trump had said publicly he was "not happy" with Mr Price for repeatedly using private charter aircraft for official trips on the taxpayer's money when cheaper commercial flights would have done in many cases.

Privately, the president has been telling associates in recent days his health chief had become a distraction and was overshadowing his tax overhaul agenda and undermining his campaign promise to "drain the swamp" of corruption, according to sources.

The flap prompted scrutiny of other Cabinet members' travel as the House Oversight and Government Reform committee launched a government-wide investigation of top political appointees, with other department heads scrambling to explain their own travel.

Mr Price's repayment of 51,887.31 dollars (£38,728.06) for his own travel costs and his public expression of regrets did not placate the White House.

The total travel cost, including the secretary's entourage, was unclear but it could amount to several hundred thousand dollars.

An orthopaedic surgeon turned politician, Mr Price rose to Budget Committee chairman in the House, where he was known as a fiscal conservative.

When Mr Price joined the administration, Trump touted him as a conservative policy expert who could write a new healthcare bill to replace the Obama-era Affordable Care Act.

However, Mr Price became more of a supporting player in the GOP's futile healthcare campaign while Vice President Mike Pence took the lead, particularly in dealing with the Senate.

The perception of Mr Price jetting around while GOP lawmakers laboured to repeal Obamacare raised eyebrows on Capitol Hill. Mr Price flew on military aircraft overseas.

Although much of Mr Trump's ire over the healthcare failure has been aimed at the Republican-controlled Congress, associates of the president said he also assigns some blame to Mr Price, who he believes did not do a good job of selling the GOP plan.

Pence protege Seema Verma has been mentioned as a possible successor to Mr Price.

Ms Verma already leads the Centres for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs health insurance programmes that cover more than 130 million Americans.

Another possible candidate is FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who won some bipartisan support in his confirmation and is well-known in policy, government and industry circles.

Trump named Don J Wright, a deputy assistant secretary of health, to serve as acting secretary.

AP

Press Association

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