Trump’s Cabinet and charter flights: What we know and don’t know – The Hill
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceWork requirements exactly what Ohio needs to roll back the ObamaCare disaster Price says working toward declaring opioid crisis national emergency Declare a true state of emergency MORE resigned Friday following a series of public rebukes from President Trump and GOP lawmakers over his repeated use of charter and military aircraft, at public expense, for official travel.
Price is far from the only Cabinet member to take private flights however, so his resignation isn’t likely to stem the controversy.
Here’s what we know, and what we don’t know.
Who is involved?
There are at least four Cabinet secretaries under fire for their use of charter or military flights.
Price was the most extreme case, as his flights cost taxpayers about $1 million, according to estimates by Politico.The Treasury Department inspector general is reviewing department head Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOvernight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea Week ahead in finance: Clock ticking for GOP on tax reform More former classmates of Mnuchin call on him to resign MORE’s use of a private jet in August, as well as why he requested a government plane to take him and his wife, Louise Linton, on their European honeymoon.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Trump adviser affirms intent to leave Paris deal | Officials report leaks at Superfund site after Harvey | Hurricane Maria now a major storm Overnight Regulation: Trump adviser affirms plans to leave climate deal | FDA to study new cigarette warning labels | DOJ investigating Equifax stock sales Officials report potential spills at Texas Superfund site after Harvey: report MORE has also been using private planes for government duties. The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Pruitt’s private flights have cost taxpayers more than $58,000.
On Thursday, Politico and The Washington Post reported Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeInterior Dept recommends reducing Bears Ears, other protected land: report Give tribes real authority in Bears Ears National Monument Trump moving toward energy exploration in Arctic wildlife refuge: report MORE took a $12,000 charter flight aboard a plane owned by oil-and-gas executives.
They also reported on at least three other occasions of private jet travel since Zinke was confirmed, including to the Virgin Islands, before hurricanes Irma and Maria hit.
Veterans Affairs Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinThe Hill’s 12:30 Report David Shulkin: Invictus Games showcase healing power of sports Trump adviser drafted resignation letter after Charlottesville: report MORE is also coming under scrutiny for combining personal travel in Europe with an official trip, all paid for with taxpayer money. While Shulkin flew commercial, the government paid for both he and his wife’s flight and a per-diem for both their meals.
The trip also came less than two weeks after he signed a memo instructing top VA staffers to determine whether “employee travel in their organization is essential.”
Apologizing might not be enough
Price apologized for his decision and offered to pay back tax payers for the cost of his seat on his private flights.
That wasn’t enough to stem the controversy or the president’s ire.
Zinke on Friday was more combative, telling an audience at the Heritage Foundation that the outrage was “a little B.S.”
Mnuchin hasn’t apologized either, and on Thursday he declined to promise that he would only ever fly commercial.
“I can promise the American taxpayer that the only time that I will be using mil air is when there are issues either for national security or we have to get to various different things where there’s no other means,” Mnuchin said on CBS “This Morning.”
Price’s pledge to pay back “his share of the travel” amounts to $51,887.31. According to Politico, which broke the stories about his private flights, Price took at least 26 flights on private jets at an estimated cost to the taxpayers of over $400,000.
On Thursday night, Politico reported that the White House approved flights on U.S. military aircraft to travel to Europe, Asia and Africa for official events, at a cost of more than $500,000.
Congressional Republicans are taking notice.
Price’s trips managed to earn bipartisan outrage.
Democrats were fuming, but Republicans also gave him a dressing down.
“[Everything] that happens around here is based on appearances. And if it just appears wrong, don’t do it,” Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Collins skeptical of new ObamaCare repeal effort How Senate relationships could decide ObamaCare repeal MORE (R-Alaska) told reporters this week.
“Taking these charter flights, playing the big shot on the taxpayer’s dime when you can go by bus or train or regular commercial air, can’t put lipstick on this pig,” Kennedy said Thursday on Fox News Channel’s “America’s Newsroom.”
More broadly, the charter flights by Cabinet members are also the subject of an investigation by the House Oversight Committee.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley: ‘Good chance’ Senate panel will consider bills to protect Mueller Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea GOP state lawmakers meet to plan possible constitutional convention MORE (R-Iowa) on Thursday urged Trump to curb the spending of Cabinet secretaries.
He called on Trump to “emphasize to cabinet secretaries the necessity of using reasonable and cost-effective modes of travel,” especially “considering the many travel options to and from Washington, D.C.”
Will the flights cost anyone else their jobs?
Trump was reportedly incensed at Price for being a distraction, and was annoyed the reports about Price’s air travel have undercut his “swamp draining” image.
But there was also speculation that Trump blamed Price for the failure of Congress to repeal ObamaCare.
If tax reform suffers a similar fate, one couldn’t blame Mnuchin for being worried.
On the other hand, Mnuchin is a confidante and friend to Trump. Price was seen as a loyalist to Vice President Pence, and lacked a more personal connection to Trump.
Trump has also been cleaning house at the VA, firing more than 500 employees since he took office. It’s not clear yet how the latest scandal will impact Shulkin.
Zinke has already come under fire from Democrats, and his initial defense shows he may be painting the issue as a partisan attack, which doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on Trump.
Trump has also been trying to combat the image of a White House in chaos, and while the scandals have not gotten positive cable news coverage, more staff resignations or firings could be even worse.
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