UPDATE 1 – U.S. Health Secretary Price resigns amid private jet controversy

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U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned on Friday amid continuing controversy over his frequent use of private jets that cost taxpayers more than $1 million, the White House says.

The resignation came just over an hour after President Donald Trump told reporters that he would make a decision later in the day on whether to fire Price, who took office in February. Trump expressed confidence in Price but said he was “disappointed” about the controversy at a time when he is trying to save money.

“I have spent 40 years both as a doctor and public servant putting people first. I regret that the recent events have created a distraction from these important objectives,” Price said in a letter to Trump. “Success on these issues is more important than any one person. In order for you to move forward without further disruption, I am officially tending my resignation.”

Price’s resignation is effective at 11:59 p.m. ET on Friday, when Don J. Wright will take over as acting secretary until a permanent replacement is confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Wright had been serving as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health and the Director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

Friday’s resignation came just a day after Price said he would stop using private jets and promised to repay the government for the expenses of his travel, but he became the target of renewed criticism when it was revealed that he would pay the equivalent of a business-class plane seat and not the full cost of using the planes.

Price traveled on private jets at least 28 times since May, costing taxpayers more than $400,000. It was also revealed on Thursday that Price had used military aircraft for multi-national trips to Africa and Europe this spring, raising the total cost to more than $1 million. Price said he would repay $51,887.31.

News about the flights provoked controversy at a time when the Trump administration is seeking to cut the department’s budget, even though the secretary’s flights do not appear to have violated federal regulations. Trump said on Wednesday that he was “not happy” about the use of private jets.

Although Price is no longer a member of Congress, he had in the past been critical of fellow lawmakers who were using private jets. “This is just another example of a fiscal irresponsibility run amok in Congress,” Price said during an interview in 2009, adding that the number of private jets for members of Congress should be zero.

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