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Price To Pay Portion Of Charter Flight Costs

Tom Price says he will not take any more private charter flights as secretary of health and human services.
Saul Loeb
AFP/Getty Images
Tom Price says he will not take any more private charter flights as secretary of health and human services.

Updated at 8:21 p.m. ET

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price says he is reimbursing U.S. taxpayers for his official travel on private charter planes.

In a statement released on Thursday, he said, "Today, I will write a personal check to the US Treasury for the expenses of my travel on private charter planes. The taxpayers won't pay a dime for my seat on those planes."

The expense for his seat on those planes comes out to $51,887.31, according to an HHS spokesperson.

Politico has reported that the total cost of the private jets Price flew on was more than $400,000 and included trips to places where he has friends and family. Price is not covering the cost for support staff and others who flew with him on those charter planes, staff who otherwise would have flown commercial.

"What the Secretary has done is say that while all of this travel was approved by legal and HHS officials, the Secretary has heard the taxpayers' concerns and wants to be responsive to them," the HHS spokesperson said. "That's why he's taking the unprecedented step of reimbursing the government for his share of the travel."

Others don't have such a charitable view.

"He's putting the money back in after he got his hand caught in the cookie jar," said Richard Painter, who served as the chief White House ethics lawyer during the George W. Bush administration and is now vice chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Painter says it is "extremely unusual" for Cabinet secretaries to use charter jets for travel within the United States and that what Price did "was a clear abuse."

Reports of Price's use of private aircraft drew criticism from lawmakers and even President Trump, who told reporters on Wednesday, "I was looking into it, and I will look into it, and I will tell you personally I'm not happy about it. I am not happy about it."

The House Oversight Committee sent letters requesting information from the administration about all trips on government-owned or chartered aircraft by nonelected political appointees.

In his statement on Thursday, Price also said he will take no more private charter flights as secretary — "No exceptions." The secretary affirmed his cooperation with the HHS inspector general and internal reviews of the situation.

Price has been under increasing fire for his travel choices, given that commercial flights and trains were often readily available at similar times and drastically lower expense. The issue became a large focus of Thursday's White House press briefing where press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked whether Price would be able to keep his job leading HHS.

"We're gonna conduct a full review and we'll see what happens," Sanders responded.

In his statement, Price made it clear he hopes to keep his job. "I have spent forty years both as a doctor and in public service putting people first," Price said. "It has been my personal honor to serve the American people, and I look forward to continuing that service."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Dana Farrington is a digital editor coordinating online coverage on the Washington Desk — from daily stories to visual feature projects to the weekly newsletter. She has been with the NPR Politics team since President Trump's inauguration. Before that, she was among NPR's first engagement editors, managing the homepage for NPR.org and the main social accounts. Dana has also worked as a weekend web producer and editor, and has written on a wide range of topics for NPR, including tech and women's health.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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