The date was July 24, and President Trump was on a roll — a Trump-style roll — at the National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia. Tom Price, a former Scout himself, happened to join the president on stage, and Trump decided to needle his Health and Human Services secretary.
“Hopefully he’s going to get the votes tomorrow to start on the path to kill this thing called Obamacare that’s really hurting us,” Trump said, before (apparently) joking: “He better get them, otherwise I’ll say, ‘Tom, you’re fired.' ”
How accurate that turned out to be.
Trump accepted Price's resignation Friday after teasing for a couple days that he might want his top health official out. The ostensible reason was the growing number of private flights Price was revealed to have taken in recent days — flights that totaled more than $1 million, according to Politico's tabulations.
But Price's exit also appropriately came on the day the GOP's effort to get those health-care votes effectively officially died. Republicans technically have until Saturday to pass an Affordable Care Act replacement with just 50 votes via a process known as “reconciliation,” but that ship has clearly sailed. They need 60 votes starting this weekend, which means it has to be bipartisan and much more scaled back. Trump threatened to fire Price if he didn't “get the votes,” and now Price has effectively been fired.
How much of the reason for Price's exit comes from Column A and how much comes from Column B is an open question, but word is leaking out that Trump's frustration with Price did indeed predate the private-travel scandal. The New York Times' Maggie Haberman pointed to a March night when Price was spotted at the capital-area bar Bullfeathers even as House Republicans were whipping the health-care bill hard — eventually being forced into an unexpected and embarrassing delay of the vote.
Axios also reported as far back as May that Trump was unhappy with Price and might dispatch him in a Cabinet shake-up.
And it's not difficult to see why Trump might have been willing to move on. The health-care effort was the first big one he undertook as president, and it has been full of setbacks and mismanagement. Congressional leaders have repeatedly tried to basically jam the bill through each chamber in hopes of getting to a conference between the House and Senate; it worked in the House eventually but won't in the Senate before the deadline.
Price was the former House member brought in to bridge the gap between the Capitol and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and make it all happen. No member of Trump's Cabinet served more time in Congress, save for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but unlike Price he was an early Trump backer. Price didn't endorse Trump until the GOP nomination was wrapped up. Trump clearly doesn't feel much loyalty to Sessions; he must have felt even less to Price.
Trump is a pretty simple guy when it comes to these things. He wants a win, and Price is the guy closest to him charged with delivering that win on health care. That win looks like it will no longer come. Price's utility was suddenly very limited.
And the private-travel scandal allows the White House to argue that this wasn't about the health-care failure, but rather about Price's personal foibles. It looks less like a shake-up and more like a personal failing.
All of that said, we may soon find out just how much this was actually about private travel. Other top Trump administration officials — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and now Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke — have all had their noncommercial flights come under scrutiny in recent days and weeks. Price's travel scandal was certainly on a different scale, but if this problem was as endemic as it seems, the administration may be forced to address these other cases, too.
If another official gets a pass where Price didn't, that would be a pretty good indicator of Price's greatest sin.