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US Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price acknowledges applause during the swearing in ceremony for US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams as US Surgeon General by Vice President Mike Pence (R) in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building September 5, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by AFP)
US President Donald Trump seems to be mulling over the idea of firing Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in the wake of reports he has used taxpayer-funded private planes for government business.
When asked if he would fire the HHS secretary, Trump said, "we'll see," adding that he's "not happy" about the practice several of his Cabinet members have engaged in.
Asked whether he has confidence in Price on Wednesday, Trump told reporters at the White House, "I was looking into it and I will look into it. I will tell you personally, I'm not happy about it." "I am not happy about it I'm going to look at it. I let him know it."
Price’s use of private jets represents a big change from his two immediate predecessors, Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Kathleen Sebelius, who flew commercially in the continental United States.
US President Donald Trump speaks at a meeting with administration officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price (L), on the opioid addiction crisis at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 8, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Politico first reported Price's use of charter jets for official business earlier this month, and followed that article with another that said the secretary has traveled on charter flights at least 24 times since May. In two instances, Price mixed official business with personal travel. In June, he traveled on a $17,760 round trip flight from Washington to Nashville and spent only 5½ hours there. He had two official visits and then had lunch with his son during the trip.
According to Politico, in one four-day stretch, his flights cost an estimated $60,000, and some of those flights came at times when dramatically cheaper commercial air travel would have been available. Charter plane operators estimated that the 24 flights would have cost $300,000.
The Department of Health and Human Services' inspector general has said Price's travel does not violate federal travel regulations, adding that he is investigating Price's decision to opt for private charter planes instead of commercially available means of travel.
Earlier in the day on Capitol Hill, the House Oversight Committee issued a letter, revealing it was also investigating the use of private aircraft for official administration business.
In a letter addressed to Price, both the committee's top Republican, Rep. Trey Gowdy, and Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings, said they were "examining the extent to which non-career officials at federal departments and agencies either use government-owned aircraft for personal travel or private non-commercial aircraft for official travel."
Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat, said, "I'd like to introduce Secretary Price to the train... Not everybody can lease a plane like that and fly around the country. And I think as a public servant, you have to try to set some sort of example. "
However, Republicans on Capitol Hill have been slow to decry Price, with one senior Republican aide pushing back on the idea that Price would face any serious consequences for his use of private planes. He said unless an email revealed Price asked deliberately not to fly "with the masses," the controversy would be a few days story. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he wanted to "wait for the information" from the HHS inspector general before commenting on the issue.
Before joining the Trump administration, Price came under fire for buying shares in a biotechnology company at a discounted rate while sitting on a committee that could influence its stock price. Price eventually sold his stake in the company during the HHS confirmation process and made a profit of at least $150,000, according to The Washington Post.

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