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Trump’s Cabinet and charter flights: What we know and don’t know

Trump’s Cabinet and charter flights: What we know and don’t know
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Health and Human Services Secretary Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceA proposal to tackle congressional inside trading: Invest in the US Biden health nominee faces first Senate test Focus on cabinet nominees' effectiveness and expertise, not just ideology MORE resigned Friday following a series of public rebukes from President Trump and GOP lawmakers over his repeated use of charter and military aircraft, at public expense, for official travel.

Price is far from the only Cabinet member to take private flights however, so his resignation isn’t likely to stem the controversy.

Here’s what we know, and what we don’t know.

Who is involved?

There are at least four Cabinet secretaries under fire for their use of charter or military flights.

Price was the most extreme case, as his flights cost taxpayers about $1 million, according to estimates by Politico.

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The Treasury Department inspector general is reviewing department head Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinDemocrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer Yellen provides signature for paper currency Biden's name will not appear on stimulus checks, White House says MORE’s use of a private jet in August, as well as why he requested a government plane to take him and his wife, Louise Linton, on their European honeymoon.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittCourt sets in motion EPA ban on pesticide linked to developmental issues Scientific integrity, or more hot air? OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden proposes billions for electric vehicles, building retrofitting| EPA chief to replace Trump appointees on science advisory panels | Kerry to travel to UAE, India to discuss climate change MORE has also been using private planes for government duties. The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Pruitt’s private flights have cost taxpayers more than $58,000.

On Thursday, Politico and The Washington Post reported Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden launches blitz for jobs plan with 'thank you, Georgia' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court sets in motion EPA ban on pesticide linked to developmental issues | Trump Interior Secretary Zinke files to run for Congress, again | Senate passes bipartisan B water infrastructure bill Trump Interior Secretary Zinke files to run for Congress, again MORE took a $12,000 charter flight aboard a plane owned by oil-and-gas executives.

They also reported on at least three other occasions of private jet travel since Zinke was confirmed, including to the Virgin Islands, before hurricanes Irma and Maria hit.

Veterans Affairs Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinBiden's nominee for VA secretary isn't a veteran — does it matter? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Congress slogs toward COVID-19 relief, omnibus deal A crisis that unites veterans MORE is also coming under scrutiny for combining personal travel in Europe with an official trip, all paid for with taxpayer money. While Shulkin flew commercial, the government paid for both he and his wife's flight and a per-diem for both their meals.

The trip also came less than two weeks after he signed a memo instructing top VA staffers to determine whether “employee travel in their organization is essential.”

Apologizing might not be enough

Price apologized for his decision and offered to pay back tax payers for the cost of his seat on his private flights.

That wasn’t enough to stem the controversy or the president’s ire.

Zinke on Friday was more combative, telling an audience at the Heritage Foundation that the outrage was “a little B.S.”

Mnuchin hasn’t apologized either, and on Thursday he declined to promise that he would only ever fly commercial.

“I can promise the American taxpayer that the only time that I will be using mil air is when there are issues either for national security or we have to get to various different things where there's no other means,” Mnuchin said on CBS “This Morning.”

Price’s pledge to pay back “his share of the travel” amounts to $51,887.31. According to Politico, which broke the stories about his private flights, Price took at least 26 flights on private jets at an estimated cost to the taxpayers of over $400,000.

On Thursday night, Politico reported that the White House approved flights on U.S. military aircraft to travel to Europe, Asia and Africa for official events, at a cost of more than $500,000.

Congressional Republicans are taking notice.

Price’s trips managed to earn bipartisan outrage.

Democrats were fuming, but Republicans also gave him a dressing down.

“[Everything] that happens around here is based on appearances. And if it just appears wrong, don't do it,” Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiTrump muddles Republican messaging on Afghanistan Trump drama divides GOP, muddling message Moderate Republicans leery of Biden's renewed call for unity MORE (R-Alaska) told reporters this week.

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) had harsher words.

“Taking these charter flights, playing the big shot on the taxpayer's dime when you can go by bus or train or regular commercial air, can't put lipstick on this pig,” Kennedy said Thursday on Fox News Channel’s “America’s Newsroom.”

More broadly, the charter flights by Cabinet members are also the subject of an investigation by the House Oversight Committee.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles GrassleyChuck GrassleyGrassley asks Blinken to provide potential conflicts involving John Kerry Overnight Defense: Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform | US troops begin leaving Afghanistan | Biden budget delay pushes back annual defense policy bill Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform MORE (R-Iowa) on Thursday urged Trump to curb the spending of Cabinet secretaries.

He called on Trump to “emphasize to cabinet secretaries the necessity of using reasonable and cost-effective modes of travel,” especially “considering the many travel options to and from Washington, D.C.”

Will the flights cost anyone else their jobs?

Trump was reportedly incensed at Price for being a distraction, and was annoyed the reports about Price’s air travel have undercut his “swamp draining” image.

But there was also speculation that Trump blamed Price for the failure of Congress to repeal ObamaCare.

If tax reform suffers a similar fate, one couldn’t blame Mnuchin for being worried.

On the other hand, Mnuchin is a confidante and friend to Trump. Price was seen as a loyalist to Vice President Pence, and lacked a more personal connection to Trump.

Trump has also been cleaning house at the VA, firing more than 500 employees since he took office. It’s not clear yet how the latest scandal will impact Shulkin.

Zinke has already come under fire from Democrats, and his initial defense shows he may be painting the issue as a partisan attack, which doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on Trump.

Trump has also been trying to combat the image of a White House in chaos, and while the scandals have not gotten positive cable news coverage, more staff resignations or firings could be even worse.