'Asking the fox to guard the henhouse': Democrats decry Trump's top health-care pick

U.S. president-elect Donald Trump has selected a leading critic of President Barack Obama’s sweeping health-care law to head the Department of Health and Human Services, and is expected to tap a veteran of George W. Bush’s administration as his transportation secretary. 

Georgia Representative Tom Price has been selected by Trump to head the Department of Health and Human Services, while Elaine Chao is said to be in line for the transportation job. 

The announcement about Chao is expected later in the day, according to a Trump transition official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. 

Chao, 63, was labour secretary under former president George W. Bush and the first Asian-American woman to serve in a president’s cabinet. She also is the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Price, if confirmed by the Senate, would play a central role in Republican efforts to repeal and replace the current health-care law. Trump has pledged to move quickly on overhauling the landmark measure, but has been vague about what he hopes to see in a replacement bill. Also, Seema Verma was picked to become administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The president-elect has said he favours keeping provisions that allow young people to stay on their parents’ health insurance and which prevent insurance companies from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.

Replacing President Barack Obama’s health-care law is “one of the things he’s going to lead the charge on as secretary of HHS,” said Jason Miller, a Trump transition team spokesman.

Democrats immediately signalled a fight over the pick.


Elaine Chao arrives at Trump Tower in New York for a meeting with U.S. president-elect Donald Trump. Chao was labour secretary under former president George W. Bush. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

‘Far out of the mainstream’

Senator Chuck Schumer, the incoming Senate Democratic leader, said Price “has proven to be far out of the mainstream of what Americans want” for health-care programs and services for seniors, the disabled and women.

“Nominating Congressman Price to be the HHS secretary is akin to asking the fox to guard the henhouse,” Schumer said.

Price, a 62-year-old six-term congressman and orthopedic surgeon, has chaired the House budget committee for the past two years. A bookish conservative from the Atlanta suburbs, Price has worked closely with House Speaker Paul Ryan to assemble GOP budgets aimed at reducing the annual deficit.

In a statement early Tuesday, Price said he is “humbled by the incredible challenges that lay ahead and enthusiastic for the opportunity to be a part of solving them on behalf of the American people.”

He said he will work “to ensure we have a health care system that works for patients, families, and doctors, that leads the world in the cure and prevention of illness, and that is based on sensible rules to protect the well-being of the country while embracing its innovative spirit.”

‘Consequences’ for flag burning

Last week, Price said that whatever Republicans do to replace Obama’s health-care law will bear a “significant resemblance” to a 2015 measure that was vetoed by the president. That bill would have gutted some of the health-care law’s main features: Medicaid expansion, subsidies to help middle-class Americans buy private policies, the tax penalties for individuals who refused to get coverage and several taxes to support coverage expansion. The bill would have delayed implementation for two years.

Price insisted that Republicans can keep the protections for those with existing medical conditions without mandating that all individuals carry coverage or pay a penalty to support an expanded insurance pool. Price said Republicans want to address “the real cost drivers” of health-care price spikes, which he said were not necessarily sicker patients, but a heavy regulatory burden, taxes and lawsuits against medical professionals.


The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1969 that flag burning is protected by the First Amendment, but on Tuesday Trump said anyone who burns an American flag should face ‘consequences,’ such as jail or loss of citizenship. (Patrick T. Fallon/Reuters)

In news separate from his selections choices, Trump said early Tuesday that anyone who burns an American flag should face “consequences,” such as jail or a loss of citizenship.

The remark is in direct conflict with the freedom of speech rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court ruled in 1969 that flag burning is protected by the First Amendment.

It was not clear what prompted the tweet, which appeared shortly before 7 a.m. ET. 

The tweet followed a series of remarks, which started late Monday and continued into the morning, in which Trump attacked CNN for its coverage of the election and its aftermath, and in which he repeated his unsubstantiated claim that the election results were skewed by voter fraud.

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