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Wake Up To Politics - September 29, 2017

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Friday, September 29, 2017. 403 days until Election Day 2018. 1,131 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!

Price Apologizes for Private Jet Travel

  • Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price issued a statement on Thursday responding to recent reports on his use of taxpayer-funded private jets for government travel. "I regret the concern this has raised regarding the use of taxpayer dollars," Price said. "All of my political career I've fought for the taxpayer. I know as well as anyone that the American people want to know that their hard-earned dollars are being spent wisely by government officials."
  • Price also said that he plans to "cooperate fully" with a review of his travel by the HHS Inspector General, and that he "will take no more private charter flights as Secretary...No exceptions." Finally, Price said, he "will write a personal check to the U.S. Treasury for the expenses of my travel on private charter flights. The taxpayer won't pay a dime for my seat on those planes."
  • According to HHS, Price paid $51,887.31, the price of his seat on the chartered fights, which will not include the cost of the other seats on the plane (according to Politico, the total cost of the flights is at least $400,000) or the cost of military fights he has taken in recent months (which have cost taxpayers over $1 million since May, Politico reported on Thursday).
  • The White House responded to the most recent report, saying that "use of military aircraft for Cabinet and other essential travelers is sometimes an appropriate and necessary use of resources," although former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she exclusively flew commercial in her five years in the Obama Administration.
  • In a Thursday interview with Fox News, Price sought to justify the private aircraft flights, despite expressing remorse in an earlier statement. "We have a very ambitious agenda and we were trying our doggone best to accomplish the issue mission and the President's agenda," he said.
  • According to the New York Times, President Donald Trump "has grown incensed" by Pence's private jet use and "has let it be known that offering reimbursement as repentance was no guarantee that Mr. Price would keep his job." Asked about the controversy by reporters on Wednesday, Trump said, "I am not happy about it, and I let him know it," adding, "I'm going to look at it."
  • White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at her press briefing Thursday that the White House is paying attention to the Inspector General investigation. "We'll see what happens," she concluded, responding to questions on whether Price will remain in office. CNN reported on Thursday that Trump has "been encouraged by some advisers to fire Price in a show of authority," adding that Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator Seema Verma are being floated as possible replacements.
  • In addition to the Inspector General probe, the House Oversight Committee is also investigating use of private jets by Price and other Cabinet officials. House Democrats have introduced a bill to stop Cabinet members from traveling with taxpayer-funded private jets; Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) also issued a statement on Thursday urging Trump to ban all Administration officials from using charter flights.
  • Price is not the only member of Trump's Cabinet whose travel is in question: Politico reported on Thursday about Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's use of charter and military flights, while the Washington Post reported on Wednesday about EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has also come under fire for his requests of government jets to view the eclipse in Kentucky and go on a European honeymoon with his wife.

The Rundown

  • Senate confirms Huntsman After months of stories on the ties between the Trump Administration and Russia, the President's pick for Ambassador to the country was finally confirmed. The Senate on Thursday unanimously approved the nomination of former Gov. Jon Huntsman (R-UT) to be U.S. Ambassador to Russia. Huntsman, a 2012 presidential candidate, has previously served as Ambassador to China and Singapore.
  • #AZSEN Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) announced a bid for the U.S. Senate on Thursday, becoming the most prominent Democrat to challenge Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Democrats see the seat as one of their top pick-up opportunities in 2018, with Flake facing Sinema to the left and a number of potential primary challengers to the right.
  • Drip, Drip, Drip Representatives from Twitter spoke to congressional investigators on Thursday as probes into Russia's intervention into the 2016 U.S. presidential election continue. Twitter offered its first public disclosure about Russian use of its platform, telling Congress that it had uncovered 201 accounts linked to Russian actors, as well as $274,100 in advertising sold to Russian government-funded television network RT, during the election.
  • Duke to Puerto Rico Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke travels to Puerto Rico today to "observe the Hurricane Maria recovery." The Trump Administration has been criticized by lawmakers for its response to the storm, although Duke told reporters on Thursday that she is "very satisfied" with the government's recovery efforts.

Video of the Day

           House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) received a standing ovation for many minutes on Thursday as he returned to the House floor for the first time since being injured in a shooting at a practice for the Congressional Baseball game in June. "I'm definitely a living example that miracles really do happen," Scalise said in remarks to his colleagues. (Source: C-SPAN)

The President's Schedule

  • At 10am, President Trump receives his daily intelligence briefing in the Oval Office.
  • At 11:25am, the President addresses the National Association of Manufacturers at the Mandarin Oriental in D.C. His remarks will focus on tax reform.
  • At 12:30pm, Trump will have lunch with Vice President Mike Pence and Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) at the White House.
  • At 3pm, the President leaves Washington for his Bedminster, New Jersey property, where he will arrive to spend the weekend at 4:30pm.

Today in Congress

  • Neither house of Congress is in session today.