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A spokeswoman for Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said the reason he had chartered nearly 25 private flights since May was to make “sure he is connected with the real American people.”
“This is Secretary Price, getting outside of DC, making sure he is connected with the real American people,” Charmaine Yoest, his assistant secretary for public affairs, told The Washington Post. “Wasting four hours in an airport and having the secretary cancel his event is not a good use of taxpayer money.”
Price has come under fire for his frequent chartered flights, which can cost taxpayers more than $25,000 each. Politico reported earlier this week that he opted for private travel over commercial flights 24 times since early May, including five such flights last week.
One was from Washington, DC, to Philadelphia, just a 135-mile trip. Price’s trips also included flights to New Hampshire and a resort in Maine.
Before joining President Donald Trump’s administration, Price served as a Republican congressman from Georgia. As a member of Congress, he railed against what he called frivolous government spending, including similar private travel by fellow members.
Price began chartering planes after experiencing a delayed commercial flight early in his tenure as health and human services secretary, The Post reported Friday. Price, The Post said, citing an aide, was forced to wait for hours in an airport, causing him to miss a scheduled public appearance his office had coordinated.
Some top Democrats in Congress have called for an investigation into Price’s travel.
On Thursday, 16 Democratic senators signed a letter to the Office of Management and Budget asking its director, Mick Mulvaney, to provide information on policies that govern when cabinet officials can charter planes and for an explanation as to what the OMB was doing to ensure that the travel complied with existing rules and regulations.
“Taxpayers appear to be footing the bill for extraordinary travel expenses using government resources and providing Cabinet officials with private aircraft at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars where commercial flights are readily available,” the senators wrote. “These incidents give us concern that there is a culture of wasteful spending on travel in the Trump Administration … It is our duty to provide oversight and ensure that taxpayer money is spent responsibly, without waste, fraud, or abuse.”
And on Friday, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, requested that the committee’s chair, Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, hold an immediate hearing related to Price’s travel expenditures.
“Too many Trump Administration officials have an entitled, millionaire mindset when it comes to squandering taxpayer money that does not belong to them just to support their lavish lifestyles,” Cummings said in a statement. “This starts at the very top, and the American people are not going to keep footing the bill for the Trump Administration’s Champagne wishes and caviar dreams.”