On Thursday night, Politico published a story with this eye-popping headline: “Price took military jets to Europe, Asia for over $500K.”
That’s Tom Price, the head of the Health and Human Services Department. And, when you add up all of the more than two dozen private and chartered jets Price has taken since May, the pricetag – ahem – is now north of $1 million taxpayer dollars, according to calculations made by Politico.
Which is, in a word, trouble. And, which is, in three words, a fireable offense.
Trump has left open the question of Price’s future employment. “I was looking into it and I will look into it,” he told reporters earlier this week. “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.” Asked whether he will fire Price over the private jet use, Trump responded cryptically: “We’ll see.”
Price, sensing he is in deep trouble, tried to stanch the bleeding on Thursday by pledging to write a check covering the cost of his seat on all of these private plane trips – including one from Washington to Philadelphia that cost $25,000.
Trump reportedly hasn’t made up his mind on whether or not to fire Price. But, it’s getting increasingly difficult to see how Price keeps his job.
1. The Swamp. Trump’s most effective campaign message was his pledge to “drain the swamp” – as in, get rid of the corruption, self-dealing and nest feathering that the average person assumes is standard procedure in Washington. Is there anything more swampy than a Cabinet Secretary taking private planes everywhere and billing taxpayers for it? The answer is no. And, Price has actually made things worse with his attempts to explain it all way by noting he went through official procedures to have the flights approved. Those “standard procedures” are what people hate – and what Trump ran against.
2. The Elites. Nothing says “rich” and “exclusive” better/worse than flying on private planes. The average person goes their entire life without flying on a private jet. A government official has been on two dozen just since May. It doesn’t compute. For Trump, a rich guy who somehow channeled the populist rage of the country, the perception problem is obvious. Can Trump really be a warrior for the little guy when his HHS Secretary is jetting around on private planes to the tune of $1 million in taxpayer cash?
3. The Scapegoat. Trump’s administration may have OK’d all of these Price trips on private jets. But, knowing what we know of Trump, there is roughly a zero percent chance that he will take the blame for this. Trump is always looking to shift blame – and Price is a perfect scapegoat in all of this. He was a member of Congress and not part of Trump’s inner circle from the start. Plus, Trump is also still fuming about the failure of healthcare repeal and replace – and, since he can’t fire Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan, Price might have to do.
The broader point here is that Price faces a daunting double whammy: Not only did he show incredibly poor judgment in using all of these private planes but, in the world of Trump, he is totally and completely expendable.
That’s a very bad place to be – and may well guarantee that Price doesn’t last the week in his current gig.