WASHINGTON - Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, under fire for his use of taxpayer-funded private jets, said he will pay back the U.S. government for expenses associated with the charters and vowed to fly commercial from now on.
Price will reimburse $51,887.31 for his share, according to his department. That would be fraction of the total costs of what Politico reported were at least 26 private flights since February, totaling more than $400,000.
“The taxpayers won’t pay a dime for my seat on those planes,” Price said in a statement Thursday.
Price, who is facing investigations by Congress and his department’s Office of Inspector General over his travels, said he is cooperating fully and has initiated an internal review to determine if any reforms are necessary. He turned up for a speaking engagement at the National Press Club, giving no sign he would soon leave his job amid the widening scandal.
“It is clear to me that in this case, I was not sensitive enough to my concern for the taxpayer,” he said in the statement. “I know as well as anyone that the American people want to know that their hard-earned dollars are being spent wisely by government officials.”
President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that he was looking “very closely” at the possibility of firing Price. A White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the secretary had spoken with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and didn’t offer his resignation.
Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote Trump Thursday suggesting chartered travel should be halted government-wide and asked the president to detail plans “to ensure that Cabinet secretaries use the most fiscally responsible travel.”
“I have spent forty years both as a doctor and in public service putting people first,” Price said in the statement. “It has been my personal honor to serve the American people, and I look forward to continuing that service.”
On his way into the Thursday appearance, Price ignored shouted questions about his future. But after receiving a flu shot on stage at the event, he sounded upbeat.
“We’re going to work through this. I think we’ve still got the confidence of the president and we continue to work on important issues like the flu,” Price said.