Secretary of Health and Human Services Thomas Price offered his resignation earlier today and the President accepted. The President intends to designate Don J. Wright of Virginia to serve as Acting Secretary, effective at 11:59 p.m. on September 29, 2017. Mr. Wright currently serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health and Director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
Regular readers know we’ve been following Price’s scandal pretty closely since it broke last week, marveling at how the story looked bad from the start, and grew progressively worse on a nearly daily basis with fresh revelations about the extent of his taxpayer-financed private jet travel.
The Georgia Republican scrambled yesterday, expressing “regret” and vowing to reimburse the cost of his “seats” on the chartered flights – as opposed to the flights themselves – but immediately after his attempt to salvage his career, the story got worse. As Rachel noted on last night’s show, Price also used “military aircraft for multi-national trips,” and tried to reopen an executive dining room.
At the risk of kicking a guy when he’s down, Price was a rather ridiculous choice for Trump’s cabinet in the first place. The far-right physician was burdened by a stock-trading scandal from his time in Congress – a story that should’ve given everyone involved in his confirmation pause – and he wasn’t entirely honest during his Senate hearings.
Republicans voted en masse to put him in the president’s cabinet anyway. With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that was unwise.
But let’s not brush past the fact that Team Trump has traditionally thumbed its nose at the conventions of politics, and it seemed quite possible that the president would respond to the Price scandal by dismissing it all as “fake news.” As of this afternoon, the White House did the opposite, suggesting the rulebook of contemporary politics hasn’t been completely rewritten, at least not yet.
As for the broader scope of the president’s team, Price is the first member of Trump’s cabinet to resign, and offers us an opportunity to update the list we’ve maintained in recent months:
Cabinet: HHS Secretary Tom Price
West Wing: Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh, Director of Public Liaison George Sifakis
White House Communications: Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Assistant Press Secretary Michael Short, Communications Director #1 Mike Dubke, Communications Director #2 Anthony Scaramucci, Rapid Response Director Andy Hemming
National Security team: National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Deputy National Security Advisor K.T. McFarland, Advisor to the National Security Council Monica Crowley, Director for intelligence programs at the National Security Council Ezra Cohen-Watnick, Deputy Chief of Staff at the National Security Council Tera Dahl, Director Of Strategic Planning at the National Security Council Rich Higgins, NSC Middle East Advisor Derek Harvey
The self-identified “nationalist” wing: Chief White House Strategist Steve Bannon, National Security Aide Sebastian Gorka
Justice Department: Acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates, FBI Director James Comey, dozens of U.S. Attorneys
A cavalcade of others that includes Josh Pitcock, chief of staff to the vice president, Walter Shaub, director of the Office of Government Ethics, and Carl Icahn, who served as a special adviser to the president on regulatory reform
As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, this does not include the various shake-ups we’ve seen on Trump’s outside legal team. It also doesn’t include a variety of people the president nominated for prominent administrative posts – including some cabinet positions – who ultimately withdrew in the face of assorted controversies.
This is in no way normal. For a president in his first year – who swore to only hire “the best people” – this represents an enormous amount of volatility.