U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has repeatedly spent taxpayers’ money flying chartered planes for ordinary business trips and even for vacations, accumulating costs of approximately $400,000, a matter which has been controversial throughout the United States. Five Democratic congressmen have called on Trump to fire Price. Trump said he was not happy, but when asked whether or not he would fire Price, he only said, “We’ll see.”
There are fixed rules that govern U.S. officeholders’ expenses for business trips. Flights taken must be in economy class, there are exceptions for those with disabilities, those who have problems with their legs, and if no economy class seats are available. The distance from Philadelphia to Washington is approximately 220 kilometers (approximately 137 miles); while I was living in America, I always drove for such journeys, but Price chartered planes for trips of this distance. Is this not evidence of being ostentatious with taxpayers’ money?
As this is a violation of the regulations, Price should be removed from his position. The most important thing for an officeholder is to earn the voters’ trust. If voters no longer trust you, you should resign of your own accord. As a government official, when you assume office you take an oath and swear to abide by the law. If you do not keep your word, will voters still be able to trust you? A very good example of this is former German President Christian Wulff. He was exposed by the media during his time as premier of Lower Saxony as having accepted a low-interest home loan and subsequently resigned. He said that holding a public office after having lost the voters’ respect would not be appropriate. He was later found not guilty in a court ruling.
Price, however, is different. He is not innocent, but more importantly, he is not honest. When he was a member of Congress, he fiercely criticized excessive federal government spending many times as “fiscal irresponsibility.” Clearly, he was saying one thing and doing another. One rule for the people, another for himself. Of course voters can no longer trust him.
At the beginning of the year when Trump took office, he immediately declared a travel ban. Acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates refused to enforce the ban and was subsequently dismissed. Yates was not involved in any financial issues. And yet with regard to the dishonest Price, Trump merely said, “We’ll see.” The reason for this is simple: The standard for his administration is dictated by politics. Price has rejected Obama’s health care reform, backing Trump’s health care reform instead.
Besides Price, it seems that there is no small number of government employees spending taxpayers’ money. Treasurer Steven Mnuchin used the privilege of his position for personal purposes, taking his wife and children on chartered planes to Kentucky to view the total solar eclipse. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke took private planes from Las Vegas to his home in Montana. I’m afraid Trump’s government’s credit with the people is suffering very badly.
Trump’s “we’ll see” was said with regard to his team and implementing policies, and whether or not he will keep Price on. One of the reasons he made this remark is that his troops have changed too much. A photograph taken on Jan. 28 showed Trump holding a meeting with his team including Vice President Mike Pence, Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Seven months later, an Aug. 28 team photo showed that only Vice President Pence remained from the original group.
Additionally, Trump was very unhappy with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and yet, he has still not dismissed him. And Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has publicly expressed opinions that contradict Trump. Trump’s “we’ll see” clearly shows his predicament in maintaining his team. Trump wants to wait and see, so we will also wait and see; we'll see whether it is ultimately the importance of the rule of law and public perception of the credibility of those who hold offices which is important to Trump, or whether it is the members of his troop that matters to him.
The author is a senior researcher at the Center for China and Globalization.