HHS Secretary Tom Price resigns amid scandal over use of private planes

Last Updated Sep 29, 2017 5:34 PM EDT

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price is out of a job amid intense scrutiny for his use of private charter planes.

Price "offered his resignation earlier today and the president accepted," a statement by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday afternoon. The president intends to designate Don J. Wright to serve as acting secretary, the statement went on to say. He's currently deputy assistant HHS secretary.

Price's tenure in the Trump administration lasted less than eight months. 

President Trump indicated he might fire Price Friday afternoon, when he told reporters he would make a decision "tonight" about the secretary's fate, and said he was "not happy" with the "optics" of the situation. Mr. Trump at the time called Price a "very fine person." 

The trouble began last week, when Politico reported Price had billed the government for at least $400,000 in private charter planes. On Thursday night, Politico reported Price also used at least $500,000 worth of military jet travel abroad for him and his wife, Betty. 

The text of Price's resignation letter follows:

Dear Mr. President:

It is an honor and privilege to serve you as the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Under your leadership, the department is working aggressively to improve the health and well-being of all Americans. This includes working to reform a broken health care system, empower patients, reduce regulatory burdens, ensure global health security, and tackle clinical priorities such as the opioids epidemic, serious mental illness and childhood obesity.

I have spent forty years both as a doctor and public servant putting people first. I regret that the recent events have created a distraction from these important objectives.

Success on these issues is more important than any one person. In order for you to move forward without further disruption, I am officially tendering my resignation as the Secretary of Health and Human Services effective 11:59 PM on Friday, September 29, 2017.

You may rest assured that I  will continue to support your critical priorities going aheadbecause failure is not an option for the American people.

Yours truly,

Thomas E. Price, M.D.

Mr. Trump brought Price, an orthopedic surgeon, on board to implement the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. But the Senate was unable to muster the votes for any such legislation, much to Mr. Trump's disappointment. At a Boy Scouts Jamboree rally in July, Mr. Trump pressured Price to persuade Republicans on Capitol Hill to vote to repeal and replace Obamacare. Mr. Trump said if Price didn't "get" the votes needed to kill "this horrible thing known as Obamacare ... I'll say Tom, you're fired."

Price preached fiscal conservatism during his time in Congress, criticizing then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for her use of a private jet. 

Price's net worth is estimated at $13.6 million.

Price sent the following memo, obtained by CBS News' Matt Tureck, to his staff upon his resignation.

HHS Team:

What a great joy it has been to serve with you.

As you likely know by now, I have tendered my resignation effective at 11:59PM today.

The honor of leading the incredible folks at HHS is one I shall always treasure and never forget.  Having gotten to meet and work with so many of you, I've never met a more dedicated, committed group of folks.

Please know I shall be thinking of you and encourage you to remember the people, patients, and partnerships we're all privileged to serve.

Duty is Ours – Results are the Lord's!

Thomas Price, MD

House Speaker Paul Ryan reacted to Price's resignation, saying Price is a "good man."

"Tom Price is a good man," Ryan said in a statement. "He has spent his entire adult life fighting for others, first as a physician and then as a legislator and public servant. He was a leader in the House and a superb health secretary. His vision and hard work were vital to the House's success passing our health care legislation. I will always be grateful for Tom's service to this country and, above all, his continued friendship." 

Price isn't the only secretary under fire for his travel expenses. The Treasury Department's inspector general is looking into Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's travel after he reportedly used a government plane to view the eclipse. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt is also under scrutiny for spending more than $58,000 on taxpayer-funded non-commercial flights, CBS News has reported.

This is a developing story. 

  • Kathryn Watson

    Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.