Gotta be thumbs down, right? Why would you telegraph a personnel decision, on a Friday night no less, unless there’s going to be a change?
“Name One Good Reason Why Tom Price Should Keep His Job,” asks Red State. That’s a fair question. After three whiffs at ObamaCare repeal in the Senate and a mess of embarrassing headlines about ritzy private-jet travel over the last two weeks, it’s easy to argue that Price is doing Trump more harm than good.
TRUMP tells press asking if he’ll fire TOM PRICE:
“He’s a fine man, we’re going to make a decision tonight.”
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) September 29, 2017
Apropos of nothing, Trump also called Reince Priebus a “good man” when he announced that he’d been replaced by John Kelly. Meanwhile, Politico just keeps lobbing grenades at Price:
The White House approved the use of military aircraft for multi-national trips by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to Africa and Europe this spring, and to Asia in the summer, at a cost of more than $500,000 to taxpayers.
The overseas trips bring the total cost to taxpayers of Price’s travels to more than $1 million since May, according to a POLITICO review.
That grenade is less powerful than the others related to jet travel that have detonated lately since the White House signed off on these trips and Obama’s HHS chief, Sylvia Burwell, used a military jet at least once for travel. (Although Kathleen Sebelius apparently never did.) But the story also shows you why Price’s travel habits have become such a liability for the White House: Now every trip taken by every cabinet official is being scrutinized by the media now, and every time they find one that smells, it becomes part of a narrative that the populist president’s fatcat cabinet is living large on the taxpayer dime. Ryan Zinke got dinged yesterday by WaPo for taking a $12,000 flight, covered by taxpayers, on an oil executive’s private plane from Las Vegas after giving a “motivational speech” to the new NHL franchise there — which happens to be owned by a donor. Just this afternoon WaPo tried to score another point on Trump with this weak hit on his VA secretary:
Nearly three days into a trip to Europe this past July, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin had attended a Wimbledon championship tennis match, toured Westminster Abbey and taken a cruise on the Thames.
The 10-day trip was not entirely a vacation. Shulkin was in Europe for meetings with Danish and British officials about veterans’ health issues.
Yet he and his wife spent about half their time sightseeing, including shopping and touring historic sites, according to an itinerary obtained by The Washington Post and confirmed by a U.S. official familiar with their activities.
Shulkin traveled commercial, not private, and as noted he was there partly on business. The “scandal” appears to be that the feds covered his wife’s airfare and per diem since they were both invited on the trip. That’s a de minimis infraction compared to Price jetting between D.C. and Nashville for thousands of dollars on a chartered plane when commercial would have served just as well, but this is what it looks like when the media has a new narrative to play with. And it’s also why Trump will probably decide to cut Price loose. If you want to kill a narrative, signal your displeasure by sacrificing the person responsible for it. It’s a basic accountability play. Writes Kevin Williamson of the jet shenanigans, “what really is sticking in the great American craw is not so much a dispute over policy differences — you don’t go to Donald Trump for policy insights — but resentment over the entitlement and arrogance of something Americans long told ourselves we did not have: our ruling class.” Does Trump rubber-stamp Price’s ruling-class pretensions by keeping him on or not?
Update: A counterargument:
My speculation is on Trump not firing him, because if he does. it’s a slippery slope to Mnuchin, Zinke, and Pruitt. https://t.co/V4gIZYayeG
— Daniel W. Drezner (@dandrezner) September 29, 2017
What line do you draw between Price and Zinke if Price goes? It’s okay to waste $15,000 on unnecessary private jet travel but not $400,000? What if WaPo turns around tomorrow and shows that another $100,000 was spent on Zinke’s airfare?