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HHS Secretary Tom Price Resigns After Private Plane Controversy

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has resigned. He had been getting a lot of criticism for taking private and military jets instead of commercial. Yesterday Price had said he would repay the government for his seat on the charter flights, and he said he wanted to continue serving. Here to tell us what's happened since is NPR's Tamara Keith. Hey, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi.

MCEVERS: And like I said, Secretary Price took a lot of heat for these flights. Did that criticism just all become too much?

KEITH: That's sure what it looks like. President Trump has not been happy with him for a while. Earlier this week on Wednesday, when asked if he was going to fire Secretary Price, he said, we'll see. We'll see can be sort of a kiss of death in the Trump administration. Today, as he headed off to catch a flight to Bedminster, he talked to reporters again. And he said that while Price is a fine man, I certainly don't like the optics.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I am going to see. I'm looking at that very closely. I am not happy with it. I will tell you. I am not happy with it.

KEITH: Here is President Trump. He ran on a populist, drain-the-swamp campaign. And he has a member of his cabinet - and truth be told, Price is not the only one - a member of his cabinet taking private charter jets.

MCEVERS: I mean, as I said in the introduction, Price did say that he would repay the government for his seat on those trips. So what else is going on here?

KEITH: Well, Politico's reporting indicated that the cost of those flights overall was more than $400,000. Price was saying he was going to pay for his seat, which is about $52,000. So that didn't satisfy very many people at all. There's also the issue that he was never that close to President Trump. I was talking to somebody who was close to how this has played out - and also that Price never was fully apologetic in public about the flights and also that the repeal and replace of the Affordable Care Act didn't happen. And at least on some level, the president blames Price for that.

MCEVERS: So what happens to the Health and Human Services Department now?

KEITH: Well - and this is a critical - a pretty critical time. Open enrollment for health care on the exchanges starts November 1, runs through December 15. President Trump has named an acting secretary, Don Wright. He is currently the deputy assistant secretary for Health and director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. He's an M.D. and has worked at HHS in the past during the Bush administration.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Thank you very much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith
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.