Democrats call on Tom Price to resign amid private plane controversy; Trump says he's 'not happy' with HHS head

Tom Price speaking
A second investigation into Tom Price's use of private jets for travel has been launched. (Mark Taylor/CC BY 2.0)

As controversy continues to swirl around Tom Price's use of private planes for travel, several Democratic lawmakers have called on the Department of Health and Human Services secretary to resign.

Reps. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., Ted Lieu, D-Calif., Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., Jamie Raskin, D-Md., and Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., sent a letter to Price on Wednesday urging him to "do the right thing" and tender his resignation.

UPDATED: HHS Secretary Tom Price says he will repay the U.S. Treasury for his private flights following controversy

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The chartered flights represent a "gross misuse" of public funding, the representatives said.

"At a minimum, the American people expect cabinet secretaries to lead with integrity, accept accountability, and use public resources responsibly," they wrote. "The American people deserve cabinet secretaries who place the public good above their own private interests."

Two federal probes launched

The HHS Office of Inspector General is investigating whether Price's travel fell within federal travel regulations, and this week the House of Representatives launched its own probe. 

RELATED: OIG investigating Tom Price's use of private jets; Price says he'll stop using private planes during probe

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the committee's ranking Democrat, sent letters Tuesday to the White House (PDF) and 24 federal agencies (PDF) to request additional information on when Price took chartered flights and for what purpose. 

The committee is requesting the documents be submitted no later than Oct. 10, according to the letter. 

RELATED: 10 things to know about Tom Price 

Federal regulations stipulate that "official travel on the part of federal employees must be 'by the most expeditious means of transportation practicable' and 'commensurate with the nature and purpose of the [employee's] duties,' and by no means should include personal use," according to the letter.  

Trump is 'not happy' with Price

President Donald Trump told reporters on Wednesday that he is also "looking into" the situation with Price. When asked if he would fire Price, Trump said "we'll see." 

"I will tell you, personally, I am not happy about it," Trump said. "I am not happy about it and I let him know it." 

Travel cost taxpayers $400K

Politico reported that Price's use of chartered jets on taxpayer money extended to personal use. Price took a government-owned jet last month to a Georgia resort where he and his wife own property, according to the article, and in June he took a private flight to a health summit in Nashville, where he had a lengthy lunch with his son. 

HHS contracted the flight to Georgia to take Price to five states within four days, according to the article, costing more than $86,000. The flight to Nashville cost more than $17,700. The publication also reported that Price has taken more than 24 private flights since early May, costing taxpayers nearly $400,000. 

HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Charmaine Yoest said that the chartered flights were booked due to Price's "incredibly demanding" schedule, and that the department looks at all possibilities for travel before booking accommodations. 

RELATED: Secretary Tom Price asks staff to 'reimagine' HHS; two new Trump appointees continue contrarian trend 

RELATED: Tom Price draws ire for travel on private jets; HHS' Charmaine Yoest explains he has a 'demanding schedule'

Price said he would suspend his use of private planes while the OIG conducted its investigation. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday at her daily press briefing that Price's travel was not approved by the White House, and was instead approved through HHS. She also confirmed that the use of private planes had been suspended.

Sebelius: Travel costs are 'stunning'

Price's use of private flights stands in contrast to his immediate predecessors, Kathleen Sebelius and Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who would typically fly commercial. Sebelius said in an interview with Bloomberg that when she served as secretary, HHS officials were required to fly economy for all trips that were shorter than 12 hours. Her lone chartered flight, she said, was in a propeller plane that took her to three villages that could not be accessed by road or commercial planes. 

“I have no idea who came up with this notion and where it came from, and the notion you could spend $400,000 in what, 5 months, is stunning,” Sebelius told Bloomberg.

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