- Vice President Mike Pence’s brief trip to an NFL game he left in protest most likely cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. Pence’s trip drew backlash from critics who called it a political stunt. Pence walked out after some players knelt during the national anthem.
- White House
Vice President Mike Pence’s brief appearance at an Indianapolis Colts game Sunday – which he left in protest after several players knelt during the national anthem – most likely cost taxpayers more than $250,000.
The cost of flying Air Force Two from Las Vegas – where Pence on Saturday attended a memorial event for victims of the shooting there last week – to Indianapolis was roughly $100,000, CNN reported.
After his early exit from the game, he flew to Los Angeles to attend a Monday fundraiser for Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher; that flight cost about $142,500, CNN reported.
That almost $250,000 expenditure does not account for the costs of advance personnel or Secret Service security measures at the Colts’ stadium ahead of the appearance. It also does not take into account the costs of Pence’s hotel room in Indianapolis and any additional security measures there.
As CNN reported, some of the costs of the flight from Indianapolis to Los Angeles will be reimbursed by the Republican National Committee, since he’s attending a political event. The outlet reported that if Pence did not make the trip to Indianapolis, and instead flew from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, the flight would have cost about $45,000.
Pence’s office said the vice president’s trip to the Colts game was planned far in advance because former Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning was set to be honored at the game. The vice president added the Las Vegas trip, however, after the mass shooting that took place there last Sunday night.
“The vice president was not going to miss the Las Vegas memorial prayer walk on Saturday, which he was honored to attend on behalf of President Trump,” a Pence aide said in a statement. “If the vice president did not go to Indiana for the Colts game, he would have flown back to DC for the evening – which means flying directly over Indiana. Instead, he made a shorter trip to Indiana for a game that was on his schedule for several weeks.”
The latest Trump administration travel controversy came just more than a week after Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned following an investigation into his use of private jets on the taxpayer dime. Several other Trump administration officials are also being investigated for their use of government planes.
Pence said in a statement following his early exit from the Colts game against the San Francisco 49ers that he left “because President Trump and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our flag, or our national anthem.”
“At a time when so many Americans are inspiring our nation with their courage, resolve, and resilience, now, more than ever, we should rally around our flag and everything that unites us,” Pence said. “While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, I don’t think it’s too much to ask NFL players to respect the flag and our national anthem. I stand with President Trump, I stand with our soldiers, and I will always stand for our flag and our national anthem.”
But following Pence’s departure, many observers suggested the exit appeared to be premeditated. As NBC News’ Peter Alexander reported, pool reporters were told to stay behind in the van because “there may be an early departure from the game.” Top Democrats joined in, questioning the taxpayer cost and calling the trip “a stunt.”
“After all the scandals involving unnecessarily expensive travel by cabinet secretaries, how much taxpayer money was wasted on this stunt?” Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California tweeted.
It was a 49ers player, quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who first knelt during the national anthem as a way of protesting the treatment of black Americans in the US. Some 49ers players have continued to take a knee during the anthem since Kaepernick, who is no longer with the team, first did almost two full seasons ago. More than 20 49ers players took knees during the anthem Sunday in Indianapolis.
Eric Reid, a safety on the 49ers, said after the game that Pence’s early exit looked “like a PR stunt to me.”
“He knew our team has had the most players protest,” he said. “He knew that we were probably going to do it again. This is what systemic oppression looks like. A man with power comes to the game, tweets a couple of things out and leaves the game with an attempt to thwart our efforts. Based on the information I have, that’s the assumption I’ve made.”
Shortly after Pence’s statement, President Donald Trump, who last month suggested that NFL owners should fire players who kneel during the anthem, tweeted that he “asked” Pence to leave if players protested during the anthem.
“I asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country,” Trump tweeted. “I am proud of him and @SecondLady Karen.”
The White House counselor, Kellyanne Conway, took issue with those calling Pence’s move a “political stunt” during a Monday interview with the Fox News morning show “Fox & Friends.”
“To refer to someone who’s standing up for the flag and all it represents to hundreds of millions of Americans and all it signals to the world, our veterans, our unity, the sounding of our great nation – to call that a political stunt is truly outrageous, egregious, and offensive,” she said.