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After scandal over private flights, who will replace Tom Price?

The search is on for a new secretary of Health and Human Services after former Georgia Congressman Tom Price resigned on Friday following a scandal over using expensive private charter flights for official travel. President Donald Trump has named Deputy Assistant Secretary Don Wright as acting chief of the department. Washington Post reporter John Wagner joins Hari Sreenivasan for more on what’s next.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:

    The search is on for a new secretary of health and human services, after former Georgia Congressman Tom Price was forced to resign late yesterday in a scandal over using expensive private charter flights for official travel. President Trump named Deputy Assistant Secretary Don Wright as acting chief of the massive department and its 80,000 employees. Finding and confirming a permanent successor to Price is only one of the challenges ahead for the administration.

    Joining us now from the nation's capital is "Washington Post" reporter John Wagner.

    John, let's first start by the person who is supposed to take over now. What do we know about him?

  • JOHN WAGNER, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST:

    Well, we know he's a practicing physician, Don Wright, and I don't think there's any expectation that he's going to be in the position very long. But it was — it was somewhat interesting that they went ahead and appointed someone as soon as they got rid of Price. I think it showed this has been keyed up for a little while. SREENIVASAN: Is the ease of confirmation an issue? I mean, considering what Tom Price went through, and now that the spotlight is maybe a little sharper?

  • WAGNER:

    Well, I think the confirmation process for whoever is named permanently will be interesting on a couple of levels. One, I think it becomes a proxy battle over the future of the Affordable Care Act. Democrats are really not happy with the administration saying that they've done nothing, you know, from the executive branch respective to try to shore up what's in place now.

    So, I think whoever the nominee may be, they're going to really be pressed on that issue. And then, I think one of the lessons learned here on both sides of the aisle is that you need to carefully vet these nominees. The whole issue of Price's trades and stock — health stocks was an issue when he was going through the confirmation process. And Republicans really gave him a pass on that, and I think a lot of them came to regret it, and it was one reason he didn't have many allies left when he got in hot water again.

  • SREENIVASAN:

    Speaking of the Affordable Care Act, the law of the land, this is still the open enrollment period that's coming up, right?

  • WAGNER:

    That's right. And that's, you know, another looming question is, you know, to what extent is the administration committed to trying to make this work? Democrats will tell you they're trying to undermine it at every turn and I think, you know, that's really going to be a question going forward because it doesn't look like there's going to be a health care overhaul bill any time soon.

  • SREENIVASAN:

    One of the stories I read yesterday about the Price situation was that he had just sent out a memo to his staff, talking about a reorganization, and places to save money, and cuts that could be made. What happens with the functioning of a department this big?

  • WAGNER:

    Well, you know, it's interesting. I think, you know, on — as of Thursday night, he still was appearing confident that he was going to stay on board. He was on FOX News saying he was looking forward to regaining the trust of the president and of the people.

    It is a very big department. There are a lot of people in place running pieces of it. So, I'm not sure, you know, certainly from the public perspective that we'll notice a whole lot immediately. Seema Verma who runs the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who is also oversees the marketplaces is still there. She's one of the folks being talked about as a possible successor.

    So, from a policy standpoint, you know, we will probably see a fair amount of continuation.

  • SREENIVASAN:

    All right. John Wagner of "The Washington Post" — thanks so much for joining us.

  • WAGNER:

    Thank you.

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