Mike Pence's trip to protest an NFL game likely cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars

  • Pence at Colts gameWhite HouseMike Pence and Karen Pence.

    Vice President Mike Pence’s brief trip to an NFL game he left in protest 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.

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 — cost taxpayers more than $US250,000.

The cost of flying Air Force Two from Las Vegas — where Pence on Saturday attended a memorial event — to Indianapolis was roughly $US100,000, CNN reported.

Then, his return flight from Indianapolis to Los Angeles, where he travelled after his early exit from the game to attend a Monday fundraiser for Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, cost about $US142,500, CNN reported.

That almost $US250,000 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 $US45,000.

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’s Las Vegas trip, however, was added in recent days after the mass shooting that took place earlier last week.

“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 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’s 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.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who played for the 49ers, was notably was the first player to begin the pregame protests, which were aimed at shedding light on the treatment of black Americans in the US. Some 49ers players have continued to take a knee during the anthem since Kaepernick first did almost two full seasons ago. On Sunday, more than 20 49ers players took knees during the anthem.

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, if a player took to a knee during the anthem, it would be good to see NFL owners “get that son of a b—-” off the field, 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.”

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.

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