Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Rep. Adam Schiff of California and other Democrats are questioning how many taxpayer dollars were spent on the vice president’s staged walkout during an NFL game after around 20 San Francisco 49ers players kneeled in protest during the national anthem.
“I left today’s Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem,” the vice president tweeted Sunday after leaving the game between the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers in Indianapolis.
Pence soon followed up with a statement saying, “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.”
But according to Pence’s boss, President Donald Trump, the walkout was his idea. Trump later tweeted that he had “asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled.”
Democrats Schatz and Schiff were just two of many critics who called attention to the likely costliness of the move.
CNN estimated that Pence’s trip to Indianapolis for the game cost around $242,500 — a little more than the vice president’s yearly salary.
Pence’s flight from Las Vegas to Indianapolis on Saturday cost around $30,000 an hour and took about three hours and 20 minutes, bringing the total cost to around $100,000.
Pence then flew from Indianapolis to Los Angeles on Sunday, which took about four hours and 45 minutes, costing about $142,500.
CNN noted that some costs of the flight into Los Angeles will be reimbursed by the Republican National Committee because Pence is attending a GOP fundraiser there.
If Pence had flown from Las Vegas to Los Angeles — instead of adding the trip to Indianapolis — the cost would have been about $45,000.
Pence also spent taxpayer money on a hotel room in Indianapolis, where he stayed Saturday night, and extra security for the game.
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As the backlash continued into Monday, both Trump and Pence released additional statements defending the vice president’s actions.
“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 to CNN. “If the Vice President did not go to Indiana for the Colts game, he would have flown back to D.C. 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.”
Trump also tweeted that the vice president’s trip was “long planned” and said he’s receiving “great praise” for walking out of the game.
The national anthem protest on Sunday should not have come as a surprise to the Trump administration. At least some 49ers players have kneeled during every game for the past two seasons, ever since former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the movement last year in protest of police brutality and systemic racism in America. Players have repeatedly said the gesture is not intended to disrespect the national anthem, the American flag or the U.S. military.
49ers player Eric Reid called Pence’s actions “a PR stunt,” and added, “This is what systemic oppression looks like.”
“A man with power comes to the game, tweets a couple things out and leaves the game in an attempt to thwart our efforts,” Reid said.