This time last year, Tom Price was handing out campaign contributions to Georgia legislators and giving every impression he was gearing up for a run for governor. Then Donald Trump became president, nominated Price to a high-profile cabinet position, and changed everything. Not, as it turned out, for better.
Price on Friday submitted his resignation to Trump after a barrage of stories about his use of private jets at taxpayer expense, and the president accepted. Less than eight months after being confirmed as secretary of Health and Human Services, Price is out.
It’s a stunning fall for someone who long was one of Georgia’s most prominent politicians. And it seems like such an unnecessary one — he had no good reason to be taking those flights at such a large expense — although it seems clear his ouster is at least partly about the failure of Republicans to pass an Obamacare repeal bill.
That was of course the main reason Price was brought on to lead HHS. Soon after Obamacare was passed, the former surgeon and six-term congressman was at the forefront of GOP efforts to design a plan to get rid of it and replace it with a more market-oriented approach. But once he was on the other side of things in the executive branch, he was accused of not being sufficiently hands-on in the administration’s lobbying efforts with Congress. There were whispers that some of those private-plane trips came as he left it to others to lead the legislative push. All in all, this reminder seems particularly apt today:
I don’t know if Price truly didn’t put in enough work on Capitol Hill or if he’s just a scapegoat. I don’t for one second believe Sen. Rand Paul might have voted for a bill he deemed inadequate when it came to repealing Obamacare if Price had schmoozed him a bit more. The same goes for Sen. John McCain and his insistence on regular order in the Senate. But I do know it’s a heckuva lot harder to get away with something like a penchant for private planes when your job performance is seen as lacking.
Nor is Price the only one with bruises from his short tenure at HHS. His resignation from the U.S. House led to a historic special election in Georgia’s 6th District, and a too-close call for the GOP in defending a long-held seat. The party expended a lot of resources and energy to retain it (which of course is better than expending a lot of resources and energy in defeat) in a contest that kept a constant focus on Congress’ halting efforts on health care and more.
Most of all, it’s another example of the kind of trouble I can’t believe politicians are still getting themselves into this far into the era of omnipresent media. If you are a prominent person, and you do something that would look bad, you can count on someone finding out and telling the world about it. It’s only a matter of when. And when the time comes, the downfall is certain and swift.