It was predictable that HHS Secretary Tom Price would run to Fox News in the wake of a scandal over his private air travel at public expense. But the fact that anchor Bret Baier did nothing to help Price’s rehab suggested he's still in Republican disrepute.
As you may know, Politico found that Health and Human Services Secretary Price has spent over $500,000 on private-aircraft or military-jet travel, at taxpayer expense, while cutting HHS services for the rest of us. Even worse, Price has held himself up as a fiscal hawk. When he was a congressman, he attacked other members of Congress for flying privately. Furthermore, as Vox noted, while still a congressman, Price took a number of legislative steps that just happened to help stocks in his portfolio.
On Fox, Price did not seem especially contrite.
PRICE: The important point here is that all of these trips were official business. All of them were within budget. All of them were approved by the normal processes that every other administration has gone through, prior to the trip, not after. But we’ve heard the concerns. I’ve heard the concerns. I’ve heard the criticisms and in order to make certain that people appreciate that my respect for the taxpayer is as strong as it can be and always has been in my 40-year career, we think it’s important to do a number of things:
One is to say there will be no private air charters at HHS going forward. A second is to cooperate fully, obviously, with the Inspector General. There’s a review going on. And then I called for an internal review within the department itself and then, finally, to pay for my portion of those trips. This is unprecedented. It’s never been done, to our understanding, before by a secretary. In spite of the fact that previous administrations have had secretaries that flew an awful lot.
Baier replied, “Sure,” but otherwise did not let Price off the hook:
BAIER: You say the taxpayers won’t pay a dime for my seat on those planes but you’re writing a check for, we understand from your officials, $51,887. The total cost is estimated at more than $400,000 for the 26 flights since May. Is that OK?
PRICE: As I said, there’s an ongoing review being done by the Inspector General. I think it’s important that we wait for that review. All of the trips, as I mentioned, had been approved, they’ve been approved by the legal department and been approved the administration department within HHS, been deemed to be appropriate official travel and so we need to let the Inspector General go ahead and act.
BAIER: But what were you thinking at those moments?
Baier noted that Price drove 45 minute to Dulles airport in order to board a private flight to Philadelphia for $25,000 when he could have taken Amtrak for $100 and gotten there in about an hour and a half.
Price replied that that day, “We had a meeting that morning on the hurricanes that I needed to be at and then we had a meeting in the afternoon at the White House.” Which did not explain why he could not have traveled commercially.
Baier did not bring up the pesky stock transactions. But he did challenge Price on his hypocrisy. “You really went after others for wasting money,” Baier noted. “You kind of led the charge against Nancy Pelosi’s – what was called her “air force” back then – and private flights for congressional lawmakers. I guess some people are asking, why didn’t you see the problem in the 26 private flights?”
Price’s explanation, surely knowing that his boss would be watching, was that he was so gaga for Trump’s “ambitious agenda,” “to make certain that we did all that we could do to advance the president’s agenda,” that “clearly, we got insensitive to the taxpayers in this incidences which is why I’ve taken the actions that I’ve taken today.”
But speaking of insensitivity, while Price was defending all that money he spent on private travel, he also thought that the Trump administration’s 18% cut in HHS’ budget perfectly appropriate. “The president clearly has laid out appropriate priorities to reinvigorate our nation’s defense,” Price said.
I’d say Price has clearly laid out his priorities, too. And they don’t seem to include much concern about the public.
Watch the attempted rehab below, from the September 28, 2017 Special Report.