On Friday morning, Fox News contributor and conservative media blogger Erick Erickson told Fox & Friends hosts that Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price only chartered private jets for business travel because the left “want[ed] him dead.” Price came under fire this week after Politico reported that the secretary had spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars flying privately, rather than opting for commercial tickets like his predecessors.
“Have they forgotten James Hodgkinson?” he said, referring to the lone gunman who opened fire on a group of Republican Congress members at a congressional baseball practice back in June. “It wasn’t that long ago that a left-wing Democrat, fueled by Democratic rhetoric on Obamacare, tried to mass assassinate Republicans in Congress. This is the man, the secretary of Health and Human Services who would oversee repeal of Obamacare. Imagine the death threats he’s getting right now.”
After host Steve Doocy pulled up images of various news headlines covering the Price story, Erickson took things a step further.
“If something bad happened to Tom Price, a lot of the reporters writing these headlines would probably be smiling,” he claimed. “They don’t like him. They’re liberals. And you know, Tom Price needs to be protected — the left wants him dead, frankly, because he’s trying to repeal Obamacare.”
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) September 22, 2017
A day earlier, Erickson published a column on his website, The Resurgent, in which he made similar claims. “Liberals Are Upset Tom Price Has Made It Challenging to Try to Kill Him”, the headline says.
“I am old enough to remember liberals attacking Trump supporters with Make America Great Again hats on right after the election. I am old enough to remember Antifa protestors attacking police officers just a few weeks ago. And I am old enough to remember the left declaring that anyone who helps Trump is a white supremacist who can be attacked on moral grounds,” he wrote. “…The left has created a violent situation presently in the country and now complains when those they would cheer if shot take steps to avoid being shot. Every single Cabinet secretary should be flying private given Antifa, the so called Resistance, and rise of violent leftwing nutters. Honestly, I assumed they already did and was surprised to learn most didn’t.”
HHS, however, has issued a wildly different response to the controversy involving Price’s travel.
In a statement to the Washington Post on Friday, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Charmaine Yoest claimed that Price had chartered private jets for convenience reasons, rather than as an extra measure of security.
“This is Secretary Price, getting outside of D.C., making sure he is connected with the real American people,” she said. “Wasting four hours in an airport and having the secretary cancel his event is not a good use of taxpayer money.”
In earlier statements, HHS spokespersons also noted that Price had “an incredibly demanding schedule full of 13+ hour days” and was busy “managing public health and human services recovery and preparation efforts for three major hurricanes.”
“Secretary Price leads a $1.2 trillion agency — the largest agency in government,” spokespersons said. “The travel department continues to check every possible source for travel needs including commercial, but commercial travel is not always feasible.”
According to a follow-up report by Politico on Thursday, Price has chartered at least 24 private flights since May. Federal contracts and itineraries showed that those flights had cost taxpayers at least $300,000. The outlet noted,
…Many of the flights are between large cities with frequent, low-cost airline traffic, such as a trip from Washington to Nashville that the secretary took on June 6 to make a morning event at a medication distributor and an afternoon speech. There are four regular nonstop flights that leave Washington-area airports between 6:59 a.m. and 8:50 a.m. and arrive in Nashville by 9:46 a.m. CT. Sample round-trip fares for those flights were as low as $202, when booked in advance on Orbitz.com. Price’s charter, according to HHS’ contract with Classic Air Charter, cost $17,760.
At least 17 of the charter flights took place prior to Hurricane Harvey and “did not appear to be for urgent HHS public health priorities”, Politico added.