The controversy surrounding HHS Secretary Tom Price's taxpayer-financed private travel became a little more serious for the cabinet secretary today -- because congressional Republicans stopped defending him.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) demanded an explanation for Price's travel costs, and Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) conceded, "It's dead wrong. It's more than wrong. And he can't — don't defend this. It's indefensible."
This afternoon, the far-right HHS secretary retreated, issuing a new statement that read in part:
"...I regret the concerns this has raised regarding the use of taxpayer dollars. All of my political career I've fought for the taxpayers. It is clear to me that in this case, I was not sensitive enough to my concern for the taxpayer. [...]
"Today, I will write a personal check to the US Treasury for the expenses of my travel on private charter planes. The taxpayers won't pay a dime for my seat on those planes."
Price added that he will take no additional private charter flights, even after the investigation into his travel is complete.
The statement is obviously intended to help Donald Trump's HHS secretary keep his job, but I wouldn't declare the controversy over just yet.
First, the inspector general's review is still underway, and we don't yet know what the findings will say about Price's use of public resources.
Second, I'm not entirely sure how best to understand parts of this afternoon's statement, which wasn't written especially well (he "was not sensitive enough to my concern for the taxpayer"?). When Price says the public won't pay for his "seat" on those planes, does he intend to cover the cost of the flight or just his individual seat on the plane?
Whether he intends to reimburse the public though ill-gotten stock gains is unclear.