Spokesperson: Tom Price chartered private jets to make 'sure he is connected with the real American people'

A spokesperson for Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said the reason he has 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 upwards of $US25,000 per flight. Politico reported earlier this week that he opted for private travel over commercial flights on 24 occassions since early May, including five such flights last week.

One such trip was a flight from Washington, DC, to Philadelphia, just a 135-mile trip. Price’s trips also included flights to New Hampshire and a resort in Maine.

Prior to joining President Donald Trump’s administration, Price served as a Republican congressman from Georgia. As a member of Congress, he railed against frivolous government spending, including similar private travel by fellow members.

Price’s decision to start chartering planes was the result of a delayed commercial flight early in his tenure as secretary, The Post reported Friday. Price, according to 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 director Mick Mulvaney to provide information on policies that govern when cabinet officials can charter planes and for an explanation as to what OMB is doing to ensure that the travel complies 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 committee 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.”

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